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November 23, 2009

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Hopes fade for miners as fatal blast toll hits 92

THE death toll from China's latest coal-mine disaster reached 92 yesterday, and hopes dimmed that more survivors would emerge after a gas blast at a colliery in the nation's far northeast.

A total of 528 workers were in the mine in Hegang in Heilongjiang Province when the blast erupted in the early hours of Saturday, and 420 had been rescued by yesterday. About 16 miners remained trapped or unaccounted for.

Zhang Fucheng, an official in charge of rescue efforts, told Chinese television that efforts had been held up by gas and collapsed tunnels.

After Saturday's accident, the Xinxing mine's director, deputy director and chief engineer were fired.

The explosion was so violent that nearby buildings partly collapsed and some of the survivors are badly injured.

"When I saw my husband, this mess of blood and flesh, I didn't recognize him at first," said Huang Guizhen, the wife of injured miner Qu Zhongliang, Heilongjiang Province news Website ( reported.

"Then the doctor told me it was my husband and I burst into tears."

Safety staff knew gas in the mine had reached dangerous levels and were rushing to evacuate the miners when the blast erupted about 500 meters below ground, the Website report also said.


Central government officials went to Hegang to oversee investigations into any possible crime or misconduct, the China News Service reported.

The Xinxing mine in Hegang is near China's border with Russia and produced more than a million tons of coal in the first 10 months of this year.

It is owned by the Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group.

Li Zhanshu, governor of Heilongjiang, called for increased coal-mine safety.

"We must put safety first," he said. "Development is important, but the growth of GDP shouldn't be achieved at the price of miners' blood."

Struggling to hold back tears, Zhang Xueyan constantly looked at her watch.

"I could give up anything, if only he could be back safe and sound," said Zhang, wife of missing miner Li Guojun, 35. When their daughter, 8, asked when dad would come back, she had to hide her sorrow and just say "soon."

Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, who arrived at the scene on Saturday afternoon, urged all-out efforts to save the trapped miners and to protect rescuers from secondary disasters. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have also given rescue instructions and expressed condolences.


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