MAJOR COAL MINE DISASTERS AND ACCIDENTS IN CHINA

MINE DISASTERS AND MINER DEATHS IN CHINA


mine blast
Coal mining in China is the world’s deadliest industry. Of the 20 deadliest coal mining disasters ever, eight have been in China. Four accidents in 2005 killed over 70 people: an explosion in Liaoning that killed 210; a flood in Guangdong that killed 123; an explosion in Xinjiang that killed 83 and an explosion in Shanxi that killed 72. The worst mining accident ever, a coal dust explosion, killed 1,549 miner at the Honkeiko Colliery in China on April 26, 1942.

Mine disasters that kill 10 to 20 or so miners occur several times a year. In 2006, 4,746 miners were killed---13 a day---in 2,845 accidents, mainly in underground explosions and flooding. In 2005, 5,986 died; 6,027 died in 2004 and 6,702 died in 2003.

According to the Chinese government 2,632 coal miners (seven miners a day) were killed in 2009, less than half the 6,995 (19.1 a day) who died in 2002, the most dangerous year in record. iN 2007, 3,786 miners died, a marked decrease from previous years but still a lot. Many attribute the decline in the number of deaths to the shutting down of unsafe mines. About nine mine workers were killed a day in 2008.

In the United States there were 47 coal mining deaths in 2006 and 22 in 2005 and 28 in 2004. In 2006 there were 119,000 miners so the death rate was one per 2,500 miners. Coal deaths peaked in the U.S. In 1910 with 2,821. In 1920 there were 2,272 deaths among about 850,000 miners.

Many of the explosions occur because a buildup of gas because of lack of ventilation in illegal mines. Describing what happens before a tunnel collapses, one miner in Datong told New York Times, "Sometimes it happens with no warning. Sometimes you hear a sound. Then you hear pop-pop-popping and you run as fast as you can to get out."

Many think that accident are grossly under-reported. Some think that a many as 20,000 miners die every year in accidents. Add to this another 5 million who die from lung afflictions and other work-related diseases.

Coal Mine Accidents in 2010 and 2011

In January 2010, 12 people were killed in a coal mine fire in Xinyu city in Jiangxi Province. The fire was said t ave been caused a short circuit in and underground cable. In June 2010, an explosion in a coal mine in Pingdingshan city in Henan Province killed at least 46 workers, making it one of the deadliest in 2010. Twenty-six were initially rescued.

In October 2010, around the time the miners in Chile were being rescued, a gas blast at the Pingyu Coal & Electric mine near Yuzhou in Henan Province killed 37 Chinese miners. There workers were drilling a hole to release pressure from gas build to decrease the chance of an explosion. Total of 276 miners were in the mine at the time of the explosion and 239 managed to make it to the surface. The blast produced 2,500 tons of coal dust that smothered the shafts. A blast at the same mine in 2008 killed 23 workers,

In November 2010, 29 miners were rescued from the flooded Batian Coal Mine about 650 meters below the surface in Sichuan Province. The mine became flooded and waters from a nearby abandoned mine flooded a shaft in the small privately-owned mine. Initially 35 miners were trapped. While 13 mines escaped, seven workers that went into the mine to rescue the others themselves became trapped. The remaining miners were rescued after the shaft was drained, Chinese television showed the miners---naked, barefoot and wrapped in white quilts with their eyes shielded from the light---being led out of the mine.

In August 2011, six miners died when a mine in southwest China's Sichuan province flooded, also trapping another six. In October 2011, a coal mine explosion in southwestern China killed at least 17 miners. The official Xinhua News Agency said 28 miners were in the shaft when the blast occurred in Guizhou province. Eleven were rescued and being treated in a hospital. Initial reports said 13 miners had died, but three rescued workers later died in a hospital and another body was recovered from the shafts, bringing the toll to 17. [Source: AP, October 5, 2011]

Miners Rescued From Coal Mine in Henan in November 2011

In November 2011, AP reported: “Forty-five grimy, exhausted Chinese coal miners trapped by a cave-in were rescued, ending a 36-hour ordeal in the world's most dangerous country for the industry. Eight miners were killed in the accident. After cave-in two days before, at least 200 workers dug a small rescue tunnel about 1,650 feet (500 meters) deep to reach the trapped miners, the People's Daily newspaper said. Seven trapped miners were pulled out alive from the mine in the city of Samenxia in Henan province, in central China, the day after the cave-in. [Source: Scott McDonald, Associated Press November 5, 2011]

CCTV showed rescuers with helmets and oxygen tanks carrying the workers out of the mine shaft to ambulances. The miners lay on stretchers, wrapped with blankets and with towels shielding their eyes from damaging exposure to light. The rescue was the biggest in the country since April 2010, when 115 miners were pulled out alive after being trapped for eight days in a mine in northern China.

Luo Lin, head of the State Administration for Work Safety, praised the rescue after the last miner was rushed away in an ambulance, but said more work needed to be done to promote safety. "The alarm bell of work safety must keep ringing. Enterprises should pay attention to work safety when the coal demand is high. ... They should not allow any operation that violates (safety) rules or regulations," he said.

Luo said a magnitude-2.9 earthquake had occurred Thursday near the mine shortly before a "rock burst" was reported. The phenomenon occurs when settling earth bears down on mine walls and causes a sudden release of stored energy. The exploding chunks of coal and rock, or the shock waves alone, can be lethal. The rescue work was hindered by the large amount of coal dust thrown up by the explosion, CCTV said. Survival depends on the intensity of the rock explosion and if ventilation can be provided, a local official told The Associated Press. "If it was not very strong, it might have caused the tunnel to get narrower, but we might still be able to send some air in there to ensure ventilation," said the Yima city Communist Party's head of propaganda. "But if the impact was pretty strong and caused the tunnel walls to collapse, then the ventilation was probably cut off immediately, suffocating the people trapped there," he said.

The mine that caved in belongs to Yima Coal Group, a large state-owned coal company in Henan, the State Administration of Work Safety said on its website. Fourteen miners managed to escape when the accident happened, Xinhua News Agency said. The fact that the accident was in one of China's big state-run mines may have improved the trapped miners' odds of surviving. Those mines tend to have better rescue equipment and safety

The day before AP reported: Rescuers pulled seven injured miners to the surface Friday and were trying to reach 50 others trapped after a cave-in at a coal mine in central China, state media reported. Four miners were killed when the cave-in blasted rock into the mine shaft the previous evening and 14 managed to escape, Xinhua said. CCTV showed rescuers with helmets and oxygen tanks carrying the seven found alive Friday afternoon from a mine elevator as waiting officials applauded and medical staff rushed to attend to them. Xinhua said six had minor injuries but one was seriously hurt. [Source: Gillian Wong Associated Press, November 4, 2011]

According to Xinhua, workers were digging a tunnel about 2,500 feet (760 meters) long, but after the rock burst, the tunnel appeared to have "basically folded" a little more than halfway down the passage, at 1,580 feet (480 meters). It was unclear what the condition of the tunnel was beyond that point, Xinhua said.

Thirty-four Killed by Coal Mine Gas Leak in Yunnan in November 2011

In November 2011, Xinhua reported: “Thirty four miners have been confirmed dead after a gas leak occurred in a coal mine in southwest China's Yunnan province rescue headquarters said. As of 9:30 a.m. Sunday, 34 bodies have been found, and nine miners are still trapped underground at Sizhuang Coal Mine, located in the county of Shizong near the city of Qujing, according to Qujing government spokesman Li Jianjun. [Source: Xinhua, November 13, 2011]

Hundreds of rescuers are continuing to search for the trapped miners, Li said. He said another 181-meter-long section of the tunnel has yet to be cleared, warning that a risk of large amounts of gas underground would hamper the operation. The mine was operating illegally, having had its license revoked a year ago, according to a statement from the provincial coal safety supervision bureau. The bureau ordered the mine to stop production in April.

Twenty-Nine Killed in a Hunan Coal Mine Blast in October 2011

In October 2011, Xinhua reported: A coal mine gas explosion in Hengyang, Hunan Province a central China's Hunan Province killed 29 miners. A total of 35 miners were working underground as the mishap happened around 6 p.m. in the Xialiuchong Coal Mine in the city of Hengyang. Of them, six have been rescued and sent to hospital for treatment, according to the rescue headquarters. [Source: Xindua, October 30, 2011]

Over 40 rescuers earlier were invovled in the rescue operation. Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, and Xu Shousheng, governor of Hunan Province, have reached the site to direct the rescue operation and investigate the blast. A 40-year-old mining enterprise, the state-owned Xialiuchong Coal Mine, located in Changjiang township of Hengshan county, Hengyang city, is a legally-operating mine with more than 160 miners.

Nineteen Miners Rescued from Flooded Chinese Coal Mine in August 2011


mudslide at Chinese mine
In August 2011, AFP reported, escue workers saved 19 miners from a flooded Chinese mine where they had been trapped for a week. The state CCTV television network showed the men being carried out on stretchers from the flooded mine swaddled in blankets, their eyes bandaged as they emerged into the daylight, several shouting their thanks to the rescuers. Three people remained trapped in the mine in northeastern China, which was flooded 23 when workers mistakenly drilled into a neighboring mine that had been filled with water, the state Xinhua news agency said. [Source: Jonathan Landreth, AFP, August 31, 2011]

Of the 45 miners who were in the pit in Qitaihe the northeastern province of Heilongjiang when it flooded, 19 escaped, four were rescued on a few days later, one of whom later died,”and another 19 were pulled out a few days after that. Xinhua said loud cheers went up when the first of the men emerged from the mine. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining three were still alive.

The mining company said it had bored 278 meters into the rock to pump oxygen into underground space where the 19 rescued men were trapped and that they had survived by drinking water dripping from the rocks, Xinhua reported. Workers had been pumping water out of the Heilongjiang mine for days and by Saturday afternoon had drained 56,150 cubic meters (about 2 million cubic feet), Xinhua said, citing rescuers. The government in Boli county,”where the mine is located,”said it had sacked two top officials for their roles leading up to the disaster, including the county head. Seven officials had been detained over the mine’s operation. Provincial authorities had ordered work at the mine owned by the Hengtai Coal Mining Co. to halt in 2007, but a week before the disaster the owner illegally restarted production, Xinhua said.

Rescue Attempt of Trapped Miners in July 2011

In July 2011, a mine shaft collapsed in Heshan city in Guangxi trapping 19 miners. Forty-nine of 71 miners managed to escape when the coal mine collapsed, and rescuers have retrieved three bodies of the dead miners. Initial investigations indicate that the collapse was caused by continuous heavy rains. A survivor said there was a loud explosion before the cave in. [Source: Xinhua, July 5, 2011]

Four days later Xinhua reported, “Rescuers are racing to dig through a sludge-flooded tunnel to reach 19 miners who are trapped in a collapsed coal mine...sources with the rescue command center. By 9:00 am, rescuers reached half way of the 25-meter tunnel that is studded with sludge of mud and coal, said Su Fuchao, general manager of the coal mine company. [Ibid]

The tunnel is thought to be closest to six miners who have the highest chance of survival, Su said. The six miners were initially estimated as being trapped 320 meters deep. Su said the rescue work faces with great difficulties as the density of toxic gas inside the shaft is not stable. Rescue efforts were suspended the day before due to high levels of toxic gas. Also, the tunnel's sludge slowed the rescue operation. "We are trying to clear off a giant rock now, but we can only progress a few centimeters per hour," Su said. [Ibid]

Around the same time 21 miners were trapped in another mine---the Niupeng mine in Guizhou--- inundated by heavy rains. Despite constant pumping there water levels in the mine continued to rise.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker website: “When the Chinese Web site Sina ran a poll asking people about a national policy to close small mines and promote larger nationalized mines, the largest share of respondents---fifty-four per cent’said the policy has been useless. Interestingly, when asked how these kinds of disasters might be prevented in the future, nearly a third of respondents chose a novel option that I think might be remarkably effective: Coal-mine bosses should be required to go into the mines alongside their miners.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker website, April 8, 2010]

Wangjialing Mine Rescue in 2010


mine disaster
In March 2010, 153 miners were trapped by a flood at the huge, state-run Wangjialing coal mine near Yuncheng in Shanxi Province. The floods occurred when workers accidently dug into a network of old, water-filled shafts. About 300 workers were in the mine when it flooded, with 108 escaping or being rescued soon after the flood occurred. One miner who escaped told CCTV the mine was flooded with a swell of rushing water: “It spilled like a tidal wave and I was so scared, I immediately ran away and looked back to see some others hanging behind. I shouted at them to get out. It was unbelievable because I got out from 1,000 meters underground.”

Thirty-eight people died when the Wangjialing coal mine flooded as new shafts were being built in an accident blamed on lax safety standards. An investigation revealed that safety rules and warning had been ignored in a rush to exploit the mine. A notice posted on the State Administration of Work Safety website read the mine “violated regulations and policies during te work process, did not conform to the regulations on coal mine preventions of water leaks...Water leaks were found numerous times in underground shafts but still they failed to take action to eliminate potential risks.” Managers accused of ignoring alarms about water leaks fled.

About 1,500 rescue workers were put to work laying pipes, tunneling and setting up pumps to drain water. Rescuers stepped up their efforts when they heard tapping on pipes several days after the flood. Divers were first sent down put they were unable to reach the miners in the murky water. When some of the water had been pumped out rescuers in rubber rafts squeezed through narrow passages and reached the first nine survivors and pulled them to safety. Eleven hours after that a major rescue operation was mounted and it reached most of the trapped miners.

More than a week after the shafts were flooded 115 survivors were pulled out alive from the watery darkness of a flooded mineshaft. The survivors stayed alive by eating sawdust, pine bark, coal, and the cotton filling from their clothing. Some strapped themselves to the walls of the ruined shaft with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept; Others found refuge and moved about on mining carts that floated by. Most were rescued from a platform above which rescuers had drilled a hole to give the trapped miners some air and food supplies, mostly glucose. At that stage five bodies were recovered and 32 miners were still trapped in three different places inside the mine. Some of those rescued were badly dehydrated. There were fears that some suffered from gas poisoning.

One 27-year-old survivor told Xinhua, “How fantastic to be on the ground again.” Chinese television showed the miners being brought out one by one, laying on stretchers, wrapped in blankets, with towels covering their eyes to protect them after so long under ground. Rescue workers in blue and orange jumpsuits loaded them on ambulances while white-smocked medical staff gave them IVs and oxygen. Work safety official Luo Lin told CCTV that “two miracles” had occurred: “the first is that these trapped people have made it through eight days and eight nights---this is the miracle of life, secondly, our rescue plan has been effective---this is a miracle in China’s search and rescue history.

Media Coverage of the Wangjialing Mine Rescue in 2010

The rescue at Wangjialing received widespread media coverage and was even turned into a film. Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker website: “The rescue story has inspired blanket-coverage in Chinese newspapers and on television, a wave of round-the-clock attention not seen since the Sichuan earthquake two years ago. As with the quake, the coverage has merged the stories of survival with a commendation for the political leadership:[Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker website, April 8, 2010]

“The rescue operation after the Wangjialing mind-flood disaster has created “twin miracles,” the Xinhua news agency put it this week. “One is that workers persevered at the bottom of the mine for eight days and eight nights, enduring and enduring and enduring enough to pass through crux of their lives, and create the miracle of life. The other is the effectiveness and strength displayed by the rescuers deployed by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council, who were able to rescue most of the workers 190 hours after the disaster, yielding a miracle in the history of mining rescues. These two miracles both originate from the same unparalleled concern and passion for human life, on the part of the Party, the government and all of society.” [Ibid]

“If that unparalleled concern seems a bit extravagantly expressed at the moment, it has something to do with how many lives in Chinese coal mines are not saved with such success,” Osnos wrote.” (Far less coverage, it seems, has been dedicated to another Chinese mine disaster this week, in which forty miners were declared dead in a mine explosion in central Henan province.) Chinese authorities have been pleased to note that much of the early coverage around the world was dedicated to the rescue, rather than the causes behind it. As Xinhua put it in this headline on Wednesday “Foreign Media Positively Report the Wangjialing Coal Mine Rescue.” [Ibid]

“On one level, the story is a testament to the endurance of the miners and the resourcefulness of rescuers---an angle that, no question, deserves to be told many times over. But other elements of the story were not as readily amplified. When the Associated Press quoted David Feickert, a coal mine safety adviser to the Chinese government, as saying that this “is probably one of the most amazing rescues in the history of mining anywhere,” the comment seemed to zip around the planet faster than the second half of Feickert’s quote: “The miners should never have been put in this situation in the first place.” [Ibid]

“Indeed, Chinese state mine-safety regulators have criticized the mine operators for sending too many miners into the shaft at once---complicating evacuation prospects---and for delaying the evacuation of the shaft even after early signs of flooding. Moreover, miners were working so fast in the first place because they had been ordered to speed up construction in time for an October deadline to begin production. Yet for all of the efforts to keep the focus on the rescue rather than the causes behind the collapse, the Chinese public seems to be keeping a relatively level head.

Coal Mine Accidents in 2009

In February 2009, a gas explosion in the Tunlam Coal Mine in Gujao City neat Taiyuan in Shanxi Province, killed 74 miners, injured 114 and trapped dozens more. The pre-dawn explosion occurred when 436 workers were in the mine. The explosion caused the power to be cut off and the ventilation system to stop working. Most the injured suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. One survivor said that he walked for 40 minutes before finally passing out just as he was nearing an exit. The mine had a good safety record before the accident, the deadliest in more than a year,

In August 2009, 11 miners were killed and three were missing in a gas explosion in a coal mine in Jinzhong in Shanxi Province.

In September 2009, 44 people were killed and 35 were trapped by a gas explosion in a coal mine Pindingshan, Henan Province. A total of 92 workers were in the mine at the time of the blast. Thirteen managed to escape. Three mine managers were detained and two local officials were sacked in connection with the accident. Pingdingshans 157 mines were shut down pending safety reviews,.

In November 2009, 108 people died in a gas explosion at the Xinxing Coal Mine in Hegang, Heilongjiang Province. Hegang is near the Russian border. The accident was the worst in two years. A total of 528 miners were in the mine at the time the accident. Most were rescued. Relatives of victims gathered outside the mine company offices and scuffled with police and demanded answers.

Because the Xinxing mine is relatively large and state-owned it was regarded as safe. The explosion occurred 500 meters below the surface and w as caused by a gas build up. It was powerful enough to cause a building on the surface to collapse and shatter windows within 20 meters of the mine shaft. One miner who was briefly knocked out by the blast told AP, “When I regained consciousness I groped my way out in the dark and called for help. Rescuers endured bitter cold as they tried to rescue a handful of miners that were trapped.

In November 2009, 10 people died from a gas explosion at the Zhenxing coal mine in Guizhou Province . Xinhua reported that 172 miners were underground at the time of explosion. Three others were hurt.

Coal Mine Accidents in 2008

In April 2009, a blast at a three-story dynamite and detonator warehouse at a mine in Yongxing County in Hunan killed 18 people.

In June 2008, 27 miners were killed in an explosion in the Anxin Coal Mining company mine in Shanxi Province after “explosives” blew up at the bottom of a shaft. The explosion occurred where 58 miners were working. Fifteen miners managed to escape Nine were rescued. Seven were trapped.

In July 2008, 18 miners were killed when a mine shaft collapsed in a mine in Shenmu county in Shaanxi Province after “explosives” blew up at the bottom of a shaft. Twenty-eight miners were working underground at the time of the accident.

In August 2008, 14 miners were killed in an explosion in coal mine in the city of Yuzhou, Henan Province.

In September 2008, a gas explosion in a mine in Jiuqing in Sichuan Province killed 18 miners. Around the same time 27 people were killed in a collier in Liaoning Province in northeast China.

In September 2008, a gas explosion in a private mine near Dengfeng in Henan Province killed 31 miners. A total of 108 were underground working at the time. Sixty-eight escaped. Around the same time 19 people were killed in a coal mine fire in Hegang City in Heilongjiang Province in northeast China.

Lijiawa Mine Disaster Cover-up

in July 2008, 35 people were killed in a mining explosion at the Lijiawa mine in Hebei Province, about 100 miles west of Beijing.”Just two weeks after the Lijiawa disaster, for example, officials in neighboring Shanxi Province announced that 11 people had been killed in a natural landslide. After another Internet-lodged complaint, investigators discovered that 41 villagers had been buried under a torrent of rocks and waste from an iron mine.

In November 2009, ten journalists and 48 officials were charged with taking bribes to cover up a mining disaster at the Lijiawa mine. The cover-up kept the disaster out of the public eye for 85 days. last year, according to a report published in the China Daily. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 30, 2009]

Mine bosses relocated bodies, destroyed evidence and paid the journalists the equivalent of $381,000 to cover up the explosion, in which 34 miners and a rescuer were killed, China Daily reported. Earlier reports by other news organizations indicated that the bosses also cremated miners’ bodies against the wishes of family members, paid grieving relatives to silence them and sealed the mine shaft with truckloads of dirt. The investigation of the cover up began after someone reported the cover-up on an Internet chat site in September 2008 and resulted in the firing of 25 local officials and putting 22 of them under criminal investigation.

The report said that 48 officials were being charged, including the mine owners, the county chief, work safety officials and police officers. The China Daily said one of the journalists was almost certainly Guan Jian, a reporter from Beijing working for a newspaper called China Internet Weekly. Prosecutors accused Guan of receiving $36,600 from officials under the pretense of running two pages of advertising in his newspaper, and also receiving a so-called newspaper subscription fee of $4,400.

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times, “When an underground fire killed 35 men at the bottom of a coal shaft last year, the telltale signs of another Chinese mining disaster were everywhere: Black smoke billowed into the sky, dozens of rescuers searched nine hours for survivors, and sobbing relatives besieged the mine’s iron gate...But though the owner and local government officials took few steps to prevent the tragedy, they succeeded, almost completely, in concealing it.”[Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, April 10, 2009]

“For nearly three months, not a word leaked from the heart of China’s coal belt about the July 14 explosion that racked the illegal mine, a 1,000-foot wormhole in Hebei Province, about 100 miles west of Beijing... Local officials pretended to investigate, then issued a false report. Journalists were bribed to stay silent....It was so dark and evil in that place, said the wife of one miner who missed his shift that day and so was spared. No one dared report the accident because the owner was so powerful.”

Background of the Lijiawa Mine Disaster

The Lijiawa mine had only a single shaft, which is dangerous in that there is no means of escape if something happens.Sharon Lafraniere wrote in New York Times, “Even though its owners lacked all six required licenses, it operated on state property in full view of a state-owned mine for more than three years, the official said. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, April 10, 2009]

“Zhou Xinghai helped recruit migrant workers from hundreds of miles away to work the seams. The $600 monthly salary was high for migrant labor, but so were the risks. In May, he said, miners were dismayed to discover that 59 mules had died from unventilated mine gas. Some oxygen cylinders were on hand in case of emergencies, he said, but we didn’t know how to use them.” [Ibid]

“Before the August Olympics, Beijing officials ordered all nearby mines shut down to reduce pollution. But Lijiawa continued its three shifts a day. When five tons of explosives stored illegally in the mine caught fire in July, workers were trapped hundreds of feet underground with only a megaphone to summon help. Many suffocated trying to crawl out of the tunnel, Zhou said. Only three or four survived.”

Details of the Lijiawa Mine Disaster Cover-Up

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in New York Times, “Zhou said the mine owner, Li Chengkui, enlisted him to deal with thevictims’ families. He wanted the relatives split up so they would not kick up a row, Zhou said Over the next few days, Li or his managers struck deals with the families: 800,000 yuan, or about $120,000, if the miner was local; half that much if the miner was a migrant worker. The relatively high sums reflected the owners’ eagerness to suppress complaints. Locals were given more because they could cause more trouble, Zhou said.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, April 10, 2009]

“The widow of the miner Yang Youbiao said she was hustled from the mine to a local hotel, then to another county and finally to a third county. There, she picked up her husband’s ashes even though she had wanted to bury his body. She asked that her name not be published for fear of retribution. They just gave us the ashes and told us to go, she said, quietly weeping. I don’t even know if the ashes belong to my husband.” [Ibid]

“Zhou Jianghua’s brother survived the explosion, but suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. At 37, he is now a semi-invalid, said Zhou, who is no relation to Zhou Xinghai. He said his family was offered 200,000 yuan, about $29,000, if they agreed not to sue the mine owner or speak to reporters, but an agreement was never reached.” [Ibid]

“In September, an Internet posting pleaded for justice. The writer said he had repeatedly reported the accident to the authorities. No feedback for over 70 days!!!! he wrote. Instead, callers threatened him...Hebei’s governor finally disclosed the accident in October. ..The the central government made an example of Yu County by shutting down illegal mines. A new cast of officials is in charge...But Yang Youbiao’s widow says she does not believe culpable officials will be punished. They can find ways to avoid it, she said. There won’t be any end to this kind of tragedy.” [Ibid]

Xintai Coal Mine Accident

An investigation into the gas explosion on December 2007 that killed 105 miners at the Xinyao Coal Mine in a suburb of Linfen in Shanxi Province revealed that bribes were given to regulatory officials who allowed unsafe practices. The investigation prompted authorities to take the unprecedented action of suspending mining in the region, causing industries to shut down and workers to become idle.

The investigation revealed that Xinyao was harvesting a seem that had not been approved for production and double the number of miners allowed to work in mine were working at the time of the accident. To hide illegal activities, mine operators waited five hours after the blast to seek help. During that time it sent a rescue team made up fellow miners who themselves became trapped, adding to the death toll.

The central figure in the scandal was a deputy mayor named Miao Yuanali who was in charge of deciding which mines could stayed open and which had to close. Over a seven year period, he accepted more than $1 million in bribes to allow mines to stay open. He and a number of other officials were implicated and punished in various ways with most of them being forced from their jobs and expelled from the Communist party.

Mine Disasters in China in 2007

3,786 people died in coal mine accidents in 2007, down 20 percent from 2006.

In March 2007, a flood and gas leak at a coal mine in Liaoning Province killed 29 miners. The same month an explosion at a coal mine in Shanxi Province killed 21 miners. The accident was more serious than it might have been because the mine owner tried to cover up the accident and a rescue was not mounted until 44 hours after the explosion occurred. In July, five managers at the mine, were given sentences up to life in prison

In April 2007, 28 people were killed by two gas explosions at mines in Hebei Province. In November 2007, 32 people were killed in a coal mine gas leak in southwestern Guizhou Province. The gas leak occurred at the Qunli Coal Mine in Nayong County, where 86 miners were working a shaft. Fifty-two were rescued.

In December 2007, an explosion at a mine in Hongtong County in Shannxi Province killed at least 105 miners. Only 15 miners were rescued. The owners of the mine delayed reporting the accident, wasting crucial time that could have been used to launch a rescue.

In December 2007, an explosion at the Rui Zhiyuan coal mine near the city of Linfen in Shannxi Province killed 40 miners. Only 15 miners were rescued.

In February 2008, nine people were killed in an explosion at a coal mine in Shanxi.

181 Miners Killed In Shandong in 2007 in China

In August 2007, 181 miners died in mines run by the state-owned Huayuan Mining Company in Xintai in eastern Shandong Province, about 490 kilometers southeast of Beijing, after heavy rains caused a 30-meter-high earthen levee to burst, allowing waters from the rain-swollen Chaiwen River to flow through a 59-meter-wide breach in the levee into the shafts of the 2,800-foot-deep mine, quickly overwhelming pumps. .

Management blamed the disaster on the weather. Many families saw this response as an effort to shirk responsibility One woman who lost a husband and a brother in the mine told the Washington Post, “The accident was not a natural disaster at all. It was a man-made disaster. The weather bureau said we were going to have lots of rain. Two other mines in the area closed, but not ours.” The day before the disaster the two mines involved in the tragedy had been singled as being particularly vulnerable to floods produced by heavy rains.

More than eight inches of rain fell on the day of the disaster. An estimated 12 million cubic meters of water and 3,000 cubic meters of mud flowed into the mines. The problem became serious when water burst through a wall deep in the mine, allowing mud-laden water to go everywhere, filling up shafts One miner who survived told the Washington Post, “I said to myself ‘something terrible has happened.” He escaped by climbing through ventilation shafts, some filled chest high with water, for five hours.

Stories circulated that managers spent their energy trying to stop the breach and save the mine from damage rather than warn miners. Some relatives stormed the Huayuan Mining Company offices, smashing windows and accusing the managers hiding the truth. Police were called in to surround the building. Reporters were allowed to cover the story at first but were turned away from the site as criticism grew.

A total of 756 miners were working in the mine when the flood occurred. A total of 584 made their way to freedom or were rescued. Soldiers and workers worked through the night pushing abandoned trucks, sand bags, trees, rocks and other materials to close of a long section of the breached levee. The effort to pump out the water from the mine was futile, even with five massive pumps brought in from other mines plus three pumps at the mine. Most of the miners presumably drowned.

Of the 181 miners who died, 172 miners of them were working at Huanyuan Mining Co.’s Zhangzhuang Mine and nine others were working at the nearby Mingging Mine. The Zhangzhuang Mine is a large state-owned mine that produces 750,000 tons of coal a year and has 6,000 people on its payroll. Employees there complains that the company was trying to boost production figures by making the miners work longer hours, sometimes with only two days off a month.

Mine Disaster Survivors in China in 2007

In July 2007, 69 coal miners were trapped in a the Zhijian mine in Henan Province after the tunnel they were in became flooded by heavy rains. . They managed to escape to a dry place inside the mine. Milk and water and air was delivered to them by tubes inserted in holes drilled to the place where they sough refuge. They were rescued after three days after fellow miners worked around te clock pimping out water and clearing away mud.

In August 2007, two brothers tunneled their way out of a collapsed illegal mine near Beijing. They survived for six days on a diet of coal and urine. One of the miners said, “At first there was no feeling, but then I was so hungry I couldn’t crawl anymore. I got so hungry I ate a piece of coal, and I thought it quite fragrant...Actually coal is bitter but you can chew up pieces the size of a finger. In the mine we picked up two discarded water bottles and drank our urine. You can only take small sips. And when you are finished you just want to cry.” Their diet they said negated their need to defecate.

The brothers had been given up for dead. Their families had burned funeral money for their souls. The news of their escape was put in the front page of Chinese newspapers as feel good story intended to take attention away from 181 trapped miners whose plight received relatively little attention.

Mine Disasters in China in 2006

A total of 4,746 workers were killed in coal mines in 2006. In February 23 people were killed in an explosion at the Sihe Coal Mine in Shanxi Province. In March 23 people were killed in a flood in the Fanjiashan Coal Mine in Linxon county on Shanxi.

Also in March, 59 people were killed in a gas explosion in two adjacent coal mines at the Xishui Colliery near the city of Shouzhou in Shanxi Province. The mine had recently been given an order to suspend production. Mine owners there were arrested for failing to obey a cease operations order.

In April, 27 people were killed in an explosion at the Wayaobao Coal Mine in Shaanxi Province. In May, 56 miners died after being trapped by a flood in the Xinjing coal mine near Datong in Shanxi. The dead miners had accidently tunneled into a flooded mine next to their own. Two Chinese officials and 19 mine and banking officials were detained and a manager was arrested after having been found “to have a correlated responsibility for the flooding accident.”

In July, 50 coal miners were killed by an underground explosion at the Limjiazhuang coal mine Jinhing, a city in Shanxi Province. In August, 18 coal miners were killed following a gas leak at the Dahuiyao coal mine Ningwu county in Shanxi Province. In November, a coal mine explosion in n Heilongjiamg Province left 21 dead. Around the same time a gas explosion at a coal mine in Yunnan Province left 32 dead

Mine Disasters in China in 2005

In 2005, 5,986 people died in 3,241 coal mine explosions, fires and floods. Those that died in major mine accidents---those involving more than 10 deaths---increased 60 percent to 3,586 from the previous year.

In February, 214 miners were killed in a mine explosion in a mine in Fuxin City in the northeast province of Liaoning. The blast occurred 242 meters below the ground. Survivors said that there was an enormous shudder about ten minutes before the blast.. Afterwards the shaft filled with smoke.

In July, 86 miners were killed in a mine explosion near Fukang in Xinjiang; 26 miners were killed in a mine explosion near Tongchuan in Shaanxi Province.

In August 2005, at flood at the privately-owned Daxing Colliery in Wanguai town in Meizhou City in Guangdong Province, killed more than 100 miners. The exact death toll was unknown in part because 65 mangers and officials in charge of supervising the work disappeared and left no records. The same month 24 coal miners suffocated to death when gas leaked into a pit at the Zhenxingfa coal mine in Henan Shanxi Province.

In November 2005, an explosion in at the Dongfeng Coal Mine neat Qitaihe in Heilongjiamg Province, not far from the Russian border, left 171 dead. The blast was so strong it killed several workers above the ground. The disaster brought worldwide attention to the problem of miner safety and forced the government to take more drastic measures to do something about mine safety. Relatives were promised up to $27,200 in compensation. The mine owner and four officials at the mine were given prison sentences of 3½ to 6 years for dereliction of duty and failure to comply with safety regulations. The blast was blamed on airborne coal dust that ignited, and probable could have been avoided with proper ventilation. The town has suffered a series of disasters. In May 2004, 12 people were in an explosion. Blasts also killed miners in March and May 2005.

In December 2005, a coal mine explosion at the Liuguantn Colliery in Tangshan, a city in Hebei Province left at least 74 dead. One hundred eight miners were in the mine at the time of the explosion. Eighty-two managed to escape on their own, 32 were rescued but three later died.

Mine Disasters in China in 2004

In 2004, 6,027 people died in coal mine explosions, fires and floods. In February, 29 men were killed in an explosion in a coal mine in Shanxi Province. A month later 26 were killed in an explosion in a different coal mine in Shanxi. Both were illegal mines.

In October, a gas explosion in a state-owned coal mine near the industrial coty of Zhengzhou in Henan killed 148 miners. It was the worst coal mine disaster in years. About 446 people were in the mine at the time and 296 escaped alive. Most of the dead died from suffocation or inhaling poisonous fumes. In November, a gas explosion at a different coal mine in Henan killed 33 miners.

In November, a gas explosion in the Chenjiashan coal mine near Tongchuan in Shaanxi Province killed 171 miners. It was one of the worst mining disasters ever. About 120 miners escaped. Many of these were seriously injured. In some cases the miners were told to keep working after the explosion and told that if they left they would be fired. During the retrieval of the bodies three explosions occurred but none of the rescuers were hurt.

Mine Disasters in China in the Early 2000s

In April 2003, 72 miners were killed in a gas explosion in the Mengnanzhuang mine in Shanxi Province in northern China. The same month, 27 were killed in a gas explosion in the Mengjiagou mine near the city of Fushan in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

In May 2003, 86 miners were killed when a gas explosion ripped through a 1,950-foot-deep shaft in a state-owned Luling Coal Mine near the city of Huabei in Anhui Province in eastern China. Twenty-seven were rescued.

In November 2003, 49 miners were killed in a gas explosion in the Jianxin Coal Mine, a large mechanized mine that produces 600,000 tons of coal a year, in Jiangxi Province in central China. The blast was the third fatal explosion at the same mine in three years.

In July 2002, 43 miners were killed when a gas explosion tore through the small Dongsheng coal mine in Heolongjiang Province in northeast China. A month earlier 115 died in another coal accident in Chengzihe mine in the same province. The latter had been ordered seven times to shut down.

In April 2001, 48 miners were killed in a gas explosion in Shaanxi Province. Only four miners in the shaft survived. In July 2001, more than 90 miners were killed in a gas explosion in a coal pit in the southeastern province of Jiangsu. A few months later 23 people were killed in an explosion in Shanxi.

In October 2000, an explosion at a coal mine in Guizhou Province killed more than 160 people. A few weeks later a 10 miners doe in Henan Province in shafts that were suddenly flooded. The mine had earlier been shut down but reopened illegally. Around the same time 45 died in an explosion in Shanxi.

Image Sources: YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012


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