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September 9, 2009

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35 die as blast strikes illegal mine in Henan

AN explosion at an illegal coal mine killed at least 35 workers in central China's Henan Province yesterday and left another 44 men trapped.

An initial investigation showed that the mine in Pingdingshan City had been operating without authorization at the time.

Qi Tongyan, deputy head of the city's Xinhua District, and Zhang Xizhi, a local coal industry administration official, were removed from their posts. The mine's owners have been placed under police surveillance, and the company's bank accounts have been frozen.

The mine, which produces 150,000 tons of coal annually, was undergoing an overhaul and had not been allowed by the city government to resume production, said a local government spokesman.

The gas blast occurred around 1am in the Xinhua No. 4 pit in Xinhua District of Pingdingshan, said the spokesman for the Henan Provincial Bureau of Work Safety.

Ninety-three miners were working in the pit at the time of the explosion, 14 of whom managed to escape.

City authorities sent five teams of 70 rescuers to take part in the search and rescue operation.

Luo Lin, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, led a team to Pingdingshan to oversee rescue work and investigate the accident.

Ambulances, police cars and engineering vehicles packed the colliery's compound yesterday morning. By 11am, at least 60 rescuers had taken turns descending into the pit in search of victims.

"The first group of rescuers arrived at 2am and began to restore the underground ventilation system," said Zhang Jufeng, an official in charge of the city's coal mine industry bureau.

By 11am ventilation in most shafts had been restored, he said.

The Henan government ordered an immediate safety overhaul of all coal mines. Governments at city and county levels will be held responsible for safety at all pits in their jurisdictions, said a circular issued by the provincial government yesterday.

The Pingdingshan government ordered all the city's 157 coal mines to suspend production for safety overhauls.

Coal mine disasters took 1,699 lives in Henan Province in the first eight months of this year, down 22 percent from the same period of last year, the provincial work safety bureau said.


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