34 miners killed in Henan blast

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2005, 12:00am

Pursuit of profits keeps mine open during national holiday

An explosion at one of the mainland's top coal mines yesterday left 34 miners dead.

The blast occurred early in the morning at the No2 Coal Mine run by the Hebi Coal Industry (Group) Corp - previously named one of China's top 520 state-owned enterprises - in Henan province .

Xinhua said 53 miners were working underground at the time of the blast and 19 managed to escape. The other 34 were confirmed dead.

The blast was the first serious industrial accident since the start of the week-long National Day holiday on Saturday.

On Sunday, the Henan Safety Committee issued a circular reminding all provincial officials to remain alert to prevent accidents during the holiday, and warned that officials who failed in their duty would be dismissed.

Xinhua reported that Henan party secretary Xu Guangchun and Vice-Governor Shi Jichun had arrived at the scene to direct an investigation into the explosion. Zhao Tiechui , director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, also arrived in Hebi after the accident.

Under regulations issued in July, yesterday's accident would be classified as a serious industrial accident because it killed more than 30 people.

Xinhua reported that the mine started production as early as 1958 and was equipped with 'all necessary licences'.

The cause of the blast was still under investigation.

It hinted the mine was operating within its production capacity, reporting that it produced 518,000 tonnes of coal in the first nine months of the year, compared with 693,000 tonnes last year.

Zhao Yunshun , an expert on China's coal industry, said it was impossible for authorities to significantly lower accidents in coal mines given the situation faced by the industry.

'Our standards and safety technology are still very backward when compared to other countries,' he said.

Professor Zhao said many mine owners simply did not care about miners' lives. 'In the US, when people discover there is a lot of gas underground, they would prefer to stop mining because they value life. But we Chinese insist on keeping going and digging even deeper underground,' he said.

Hu Xingdou , a professor of economics and China affairs at the Beijing Institute of Technology, criticised the blind pursuit of profits in the mining sector.

'It is very common for coal mining to continue during public holidays because many local governments depend on the income from the industry,' he said.

The mainland's unparalleled growth is mainly fuelled by coal, which provides two-thirds of the country's energy needs.

However, the mainland's coal industry is also the world's deadliest, with more than 6,000 killed last year.