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Toll in Chinese Mine Explosion Rises to 104

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    Toll in Chinese Mine Explosion Rises to 104 New York Times By KEITH BRADSHER November 22, 2009 HONG KONG - A gas explosion at a coal mine in northeastern China
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      Toll in Chinese Mine Explosion Rises to 104
      New York Times
      November 22, 2009
       

      HONG KONG — A gas explosion at a coal mine in northeastern China early Saturday killed at least 104 people, China’s worst mine disaster in nearly two years, Chinese official media said Monday.

      Since an announcement on Saturday that 42 were dead and 66 were missing, no further survivors of the powerful underground explosion have been found, and more than 60 bodies have been located. At least four miners were still missing early Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

      The explosion took place at the Xinxing Coal Mine in Hegang City, in Heilongjiang province, according to Xinhua. At least 29 miners were hospitalized, including 6 with serious injuries.

      Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang visited the site on Saturday afternoon to inspect the rescue effort, while President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao both “made instructions on the rescue work,” Xinhua said. Expressions of concern by top offiicials after mine disasters have become frequent in recent years, as deadly accidents have continued despite repeated efforts to improve safety.

      Mine disasters are regular occurrences in China; the worst previously this year appears to have been a blast at the Tunlan coal mine in Shanxi province in northern China in February, which killed 77 and was the largest such incident since 105 miners were killed in December 2007.

      Official data shows that the number of coal mining deaths has been cut in half since 2002, to 3,210 last year, although some mine disasters continue to be covered up.

      The explosion on Saturday was unusual in that it involved a large mine operated by one of China’s biggest state-owned companies, the Heilongjiang Longmei Holding Mining Group. Xinhua said that 420 miners had survived and reached the surface, out of 528 who were underground at the time of the blast, a shock so powerful that it partly collapsed mine buildings at the surface.

      Most of the deaths in Chinese mines occur in small, unlicensed operations that the national government has tried to shut down. But the authorities often meet resistance from mine owners, who find these operations profitable, and from local officials who want to create jobs and may have corrupt links to the mine owners.

      Coal prices have been high for the past six years, drawing more companies into the industry. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the number of coal mining companies in China rose last year to 9,212, from 7,537 in 2007.

      Vehicle crashes are a far bigger cause of violent deaths in China than mine disasters, but receive relatively little attention from the Chinese leadership and the media, which tend to focus more on industrial policies and worker safety. Crashes kill close to 100,000 people a year, according to official statistics, and Western health experts say that the actual total is much higher since many deaths are not reported.


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