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Toll Grows in China Mine Blast; at Least 138 Dead

Eleven people are missing. National leaders demand stricter enforcement of rules.

November 29, 2005|From Associated Press

QITAIHE, China — The death toll from a coal mine explosion rose to at least 138 on Monday, with 11 people missing, and national leaders demanded stricter enforcement of safety rules.

China's mining industry is by far the world's deadliest, with more than 5,000 fatalities a year.

Outside the Dongfeng mine here in China's northeast, guards blocked the front gate as about a dozen people stood in subfreezing weather and evening fog. Four women argued loudly with the guards, demanding to be let in to look for relatives.

People who answered the phone at the mine office said they were too busy to provide information.

The disaster is a setback for Chinese officials struggling to improve safety in the coal mining industry. Most accidents are blamed on disregard for safety rules or lack of equipment for ventilation or fire control. Local officials often are accused of helping mine owners or managers flout the rules.

Beijing has unveiled one safety initiative after another in recent years. It has announced the creation of a national network of safety inspectors, stricter fire standards and shorter working hours for miners.

Authorities say they have shut down more than 12,000 mines this year for safety inspections. Thousands have been ordered to improve, and many others aren't expected to reopen.

The government said the explosion in Qitaihe was caused by coal dust that ignited. There was no word on whether misconduct or human error were thought to have played a part.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao urged officials to curb the "possible occurrence of big safety accidents which claim huge casualties and property losses," the state-run newspaper China Daily reported. The leaders called for enforcement of stricter inspections and punishments, it said.

Provincial Gov. Zhang Zuoji was shown visiting survivors in the hospital. Most wore oxygen masks, and many were in bed in their work clothes, their faces caked with grime.

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