December 3, 2005

Death toll from China mine blast reaches 169

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The death toll from an explosion in a
coal mine in northeast China has risen to 169, with two people
still missing, the official Xinhua news agency said on

Rescuers found the remains of three more miners killed in
the blast at the state-owned Dongfeng coal mine in Heilongjiang
province, Xinhua said.

The dead include 167 miners who were working underground
when the explosion happened last Sunday and two workers who
were in a generator room at ground level. There were 242 miners
underground at the time of the blast. Of those, 73 survived.

Authorities have shut down the colliery, run by a branch of
the Heilongjiang Longmei Mining (Group) Co. Ltd., and detained
several top officials.

The coal mine operator and the party chief of the Dongfeng
coal mine were removed from their posts and the general manager
of Longmei Group's Qitaihe branch was also dismissed.

The disaster was a setback for President Hu Jintao and
Premier Wen Jiabao who are campaigning to clean up the world's
biggest and deadliest mining industry. Some 6,000 Chinese
miners were killed last year and at least 2,700 have died in
the first half of 2005.

Responding to the latest accident, a senior official
visiting the site on Saturday said China would close 4,000
small coal mines annually in the next three years, Xinhua

"We can at most keep 10,000 or so small coal mines," said
Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Administration of Coal Mine
Safety Supervision, who also promised to drastically reduce the
incidence of major accidents with coal mines in two years.

China now has 24,000 small coal mines with the annual
production ranging from 10,000 tons to 30,000 tons. They
account for 70 percent of the country's coal mining ventures.

Mines to be closed will include privately owned ones as
well as state-owned coal pits, Xinhua said.

In an even more recent incident, 42 miners were missing
after a mine flooded in central Henan province late on Friday,
Xinhua reported.

More than 200 workers were trying to pump out water from
the privately owned Sigou coal mine in Xin'an county to save
the miners, who were among 76 people working underground when
the flooding occurred.