Mainland mine gas explosion kills 21 miners, leaves 16 men missing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am

An explosion at a state-owned coal mine in Henan province yesterday morning killed 21 miners and left 16 missing, the country's work safety watchdog said.

The State Administration of Work Safety said 276 workers were working underground at a colliery in Yuzhou when it was hit by a 'sudden coal and gas outburst'.

A total of 239 miners made it to the surface following the accident, the administration said, adding that rescue workers later found 21 bodies yesterday. It was believed 16 miners were missing, but there were no details about how far underground they were trapped.

The latest mine tragedy came just two days after the world was riveted by Chile's dramatic rescue of 33 trapped miners after more than two months underground.

Xinhua said Luo Lin, director of the work safety watchdog and his deputy Zhao Tiechui, who chairs the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, arrived at the scene with Henan provincial leaders to supervise the rescue work.

The ill-fated mine is owned by state-owned Pingyu Coal and Electric Company and China Power Investment Group.

The accident prompted a public outcry on the mainland, with many internet users saying it highlighted the government's failure to protect mine workers - a stark contrast to Chile's miracle in saving 33 trapped workers.

On Friday the state-owned news service Xinhua issued a commentary saying China could learn from 'Chile's miracle'.

'The specially designed emergency shelters underground played an important role in rescuing all the 33 Chilean mine workers,' the article quoted Huang Yi , State Administration of Work Safety spokesman, as saying. 'Our country has also ordered all mine owners, over the next three years, to set up emergency shelters with enough food, clean water and alternative air supplies.'

However, work safety experts told Xinhua it was very difficult to implement the new measures because of the high maintenance cost.

The article said the appalling coal mine accidents in China could be blamed on poor equipment, a lack of proper training and a low awareness of the value of life.

Internet users also vented their anger over the latest tragedy.

'Chile's government spared no efforts to rescue the trapped miners whose lives were hanging by a thread. How come our authorities still allow so many young people to work in a dangerous environment underground,' a user wrote on the People's Daily Qiangguo Forum.

'Chile's miracle is a slap in the face for the Chinese government,' another internet user wrote in the Tianya chat room.

In order to curb the rising death toll, from October 8 the State Council ordered coal mine bosses to lead miners down the shaft, otherwise workers could refuse to work underground. The rule was extended to cover all sorts of mines from Friday.