China coal mine explosion kills 17 workers


Afp May 30, 2010

BEIJING: An explosion at a colliery in central China killed 17 workers, a provincial official said on Sunday, in the latest deadly accident to hit the nation's notoriously dangerous mining industry.

The blast happened on Saturday in Hunan province's Rucheng county, an official with the provincial work safety bureau, who refused to be named, told AFP. "Rescue work has ended," he said, without providing further details.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, the explosion happened inside the pit where dynamite was being stored and there was also a build-up of poisonous gas. A total of 18 people were working underground at the time, and one survived with injuries, Xinhua said.

Police and work safety officials are investigating the cause of the blast, the report said. Around 2,600 people were killed last year in China's vast mining industry due mainly to lax regulation, corruption and inefficiency, according to official figures. Earlier this month, 21 workers were killed in a gas blast at a colliery in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

In March, a flood at the huge, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground. A total of 115 were recovered alive in a rare successful rescue for the industry.

Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said in February that China would need at least 10 years to "fundamentally improve" safety. "Awareness of safety and rule of law is still low in some coal-rich areas and some coal enterprises," he said.

As part of its efforts to increase safety standards, the central government has levied heavy fines and implemented region-wide mining shut-downs following serious accidents.

But the action has resulted in the under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit economic losses, labour rights groups maintain.

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