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Coal Mine Explosion Kills More Than 110 in China - 2002-06-21

A gas explosion at a coal mine in northeast China has killed more than 110 miners. This is the latest in a string of industrial accidents that kill tens of thousands of Chinese workers each year.

The deadly blast ripped through a coal mine in China's northeastern province, Heilongjiang, Thursday morning. The deputy head of China's work safety bureau, Zhao Tiechui, talked about the accident on Chinese state television Friday. Mr. Zhao said the gas explosion at the Chengzihe mine in Jixi municipality trapped 139 miners underground.

He said rescuers have taken 24 miners to hospital for emergency treatment. Several others are still missing. State media said among those trapped was the mine's general manager, Zhao Wenlin.

China's coal mine safety bureau ordered all mines in Jixi to suspend work. The Xinhua news agency says other mines in China are urged to learn from the explosion and pay more attention to safety.

The government ordered the closure of 10,000 small coal mines last year because of obsolete facilities and dangerous work conditions. But Beijing admits that mines often re-open illegally.

According to official statistics, almost 5,400 miners died last year in mine accidents. Labor experts say the actual death toll is likely to be even higher because mine owners fail to report accidents for fear of being shut down.

Anita Chan, a Chinese labor specialist at the Australian National University, said China's industrial safety standards are among the worst in the world, but local governments often turn a blind eye to labor abuses. "People's limbs are being chopped off, and they are suffering form chronic diseases, inhaling toxic chemicals. It could be acute or it could be chronic poisoning. It's so prevalent in China," she said.

Several weeks ago, a court in southwestern China sentenced a county official to death for trying to cover up a tin mine explosion that killed 81 people. Three other government officials received lengthy jail terms for colluding with mine officials in the cover-up.