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November 24, 2009

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Management censured over deadly mine blast

SAFETY officials and investigators have blamed poor management and inadequate safety precautions for the coal-mine blast that has so far claimed 104 lives in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

Last night four miners remained trapped at the Xinxing Coal Mine, which is administered by the state-owned Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group's subsidiary in Hegang City.

Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, said yesterday the accident started with a gas leak in one of the shafts. As a result of poor ventilation, gas quickly poured into the main tunnel and triggered the massive explosion.

He said management of the mine was to blame for failing to evacuate workers promptly after an extremely high gas content was detected in the pit.

"Investigators are yet to determine the exact cause of the accident after a thorough probe at the site," said Luo.

"The accident has again revealed many problems in colliery management -- it's a lesson we must all learn."

A total of 528 miners were working in the pit when monitor Fan Minghua's gas detector beeped at 1:37am on Saturday.

"I manually tested the gas density in the air, which read over 10 percent," said Fan, who has monitored gas density in the pit for four years.

Safety regulations rule that all miners must be evacuated when gas density exceeds 2 percent.

Fan shouted for everyone on his platform to evacuate, shut off the power and informed coordinators on the surface.

He contacted other gas monitors, who helped dozens of miners to flee.

Realizing that the nearest route to escape had been blocked by toppled equipment, gas monitor Wang Shili left a message on the wall with chalk: "Dead end here. Exit from Northern Tunnel."

When hero miner Wang Naihui saw thick yellow smoke billow into the air, he immediately covered his mouth and nose with a towel. He poured water on the face of co-worker Lin Maohai, who had fainted, and dragged him out of the pit.

At a press conference yesterday, journalists demanded an explanation as to why management of the mine failed to evacuate more people in the hour between Fan's report and the blast.

Mine official Zhang Jinguang insisted the evacuation was "timely."

"The evacuation took time as miners had to run a long way from their mining platforms to the surface," Zhang said.

Poor safety and ventilation were among the fatal failures, said Zhao Tiechui, deputy head of the administration.

The search continued late last night for the four missing miners but little hope is held for their survival.

Sixty-five people were injured in the blast, mostly suffering gas poisoning, burns, fractures and bruises.


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