24 Trapped in Flooded Mine in China

August 2, 2010

Two dozen workers were trapped in a flooded mine in northeast China on Sunday, the latest accident in the country’s notoriously dangerous coal industry.

The State Work Safety Administration has dispatched a team to investigate the Saturday afternoon flood at a mine in Jixi city of Heilongjiang province, said a man at the administration who refused to be identified. No further details were available, he said.

News of the trapped workers came one day after a blast at a workers’ dormitory killed at least 17 people in a northern city with a history of deadly mine accidents. The blast left a crater 65 feet (20 meters) across and about 16 feet (5 meters) deep, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The explosion in the early morning hours on Saturday was blamed on explosives that had been illegally hidden in the area, Xinhua reported, citing a senior official with the mine’s owner, Yangquan Coal Industry (Group) Co. Ltd. One person has been detained.

Another seven people were seriously injured in the 2 a.m. blast at the Liugou mine in Linfen city in the northern province of Shanxi, Xinhua said.

It was not clear whether the mine was licensed. China has been trying to improve the safety of its mining industry, which is by far the world’s deadliest, but an unknown number of illegal mines exist to profit off the country’s huge appetite for power.

The website of the Yangquan Coal Industry (Group) Co. Ltd says the company is state-owned. Phone calls to the company rang unanswered Sunday.

The gritty city of Linfen is especially well-known for coal mine accidents. The city had nine major coal mine disasters, with more than 10 deaths each, between 2003 and 2008, the China Labour Bulletin reported last year.

The city’s most powerful job, that of party secretary, went unfilled for more than six months in 2008 and 2009 as officials appeared to shy away.

“The most unwanted job in the Chinese Communist Party,” said the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, which tracks labor issues on the mainland, when the post was finally filled with Xie Hai, who remains in the job.

His predecessor was fired after a massive landslide from an illegal mining operation submerged a village under Linfen’s oversight and killed at least 277 people in late 2008.

This year, Coal mine disasters in China have killed 351 people through July 18, according to the website of China’s work safety administration.

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.

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