MAC: Mines and Communities

Shanxi coal disaster

Published by MAC on 2010-04-08
Source: China Worker, Times

Huajin Coking Coal Co. is a joint venture of China's second-largest coal mining company, the China National Coal Group Corp., with the remaining 50 percent stake owned by the Shanxi Coking Coal Group Co.

For comment and more news coverage of the Shanxi coal disaster, see:

Rescuers battle floods to save 32 still missing in China mine disaster

Coal miners rest at the Wangjialing Coal Mine in Xiangning county in north China's Shanxi province

The Times

9 April 2010

After the miracle discovery of 115 workers trapped for eight days in a flooded Chinese mine, rescuers are battling high waters to reach 32 men still missing.

The first bodies, of six men, were found this morning, casting a shadow over the rescuers' delight on Monday at pulling out so many survivors - a record for China's notoriously dangerous mining industry.

Teams above ground continued to pump out millions more gallons of the water that gushed into the shafts of the Wangjialing mine in northwestern China shortly after noon on March 28 as 261 men were working underground, some as deep as 1,000 metres below the surface.

Up to 2,000 rescuers had descended into the mine and were struggling to make their way along the tunnels in rafts in search of the last missing 32 workers.

They knew the probable location of the men but the situation underground was extremely complex, hampering efforts to find them. One rescue team alone spent more than nine hours underground.

Shanxi provincial governor Wang Jun said: "We will do everything to rescue alive the 32 mine workers."

Of the 115 men pulled up to safety on Sunday, 26 were reported to be in serious condition but none had sustained life-threatening injuries.

The men were given rice porridge for lunch - their first solid food after a week underground surviving on pine bark picked from supports in the mine and scraps of water that floated past them. Doctors said some were allowed noodles for dinner.

They chewed the bark after soaking it in dirty water to soften it, but after terrible stomachaches they stopped eating and only drank water. One worker had a mineral water bottle into which the men poured filthy water and waited for the dirt to settle before drinking from the top. The bottle was passed around with each man taking a mouthful.

Outside the mine, anxious relatives were still waiting for news of missing loved ones, complaining that officials had yet to release a full name list of those rescued and those still missing.

Yang Xiaolin was awaiting news of his missing nephew,a 35-year-old electrician. He said: "We don't know whether he is still trapped underground or in hospital. We've been to the hospital but they refuse to tell us if he is still trapped and they refuse to let us in."

China hails ‘miracle' escape of 115 trapped miners

Jane Macartney, China Correspondent

The Times

6 April 2010

After eight days and nights trapped in the darkness of a flooded mine in northwest China, 115 men have been pulled out alive. Some were strong enough to walk almost unaided to the lifts that brought them out of the shafts where they had been entombed since water gushed through the colliery just after noon on March 28. One miner on a stretcher clapped his coaldust-coated hands and gripped the hands of rescuers and officials who reached out to touch him.

Others, suffering from hypothermia, dehydration and infections, were rushed to ambulances. "This is probably one of the most amazing rescues in the history of mining anywhere," David Feickert, a coalmine safety adviser to the Chinese Government, said. "It is a miracle," said Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety.

As medics took care of those who had been freed, rescue workers pressed on with scouring the flooded tunnels of the Wangjialing mine in search of 38 men still missing hundreds of metres below the surface. More than 5,000 rescuers have worked around the clock since the accident, pumping millions of gallons of water out of the mine so rescue teams could enter. The teams, accompanied by divers, began descending into the mine on Friday. Late on Sunday they were led to the first survivors by the sound of tapping on pipes.

One rescuer said that he suddenly saw a light in the distance. He called colleagues on the surface before he and others raced along the shaft - the deepest in the pit - to find nine men huddled on a working platform. These were the first to be brought out early yesterday. "They were very smart," said Chen Yongsheng, a rescuer. "Several gathered together and they turned on their lamps in rotation to try to save the batteries until they could be found. When we rescued them they still had plenty of power."

But their ordeal was harrowing. One man described how the floodwaters had smashed through the tunnels, sweeping him and his colleagues away. He was carried along a shaft until his belt snagged. For three days and nights he remained hanging there, even managing to sleep. When a mining cart floated by, he and eight colleagues who had also hooked themselves to the wall clambered in and floated along. They ate the bark from the shaft's supports and drank the cold, filthy water.

Eventually the cart hit a working platform and the nine men took refuge there. When he reached the surface Li Guoyu, 38, of Henan province, borrowed a mobile phone from a doctor to call his family. He said to his wife: "I'm good. How are you and the kid?"

Others were almost incapable of speech. A brother-in-law of Fu Ziyang said: "He called and managed to say my sister's nickname, ‘Xiaomi', so we know it's really him and that he's alive."

Most of the survivors were said to be doing well but seven were reported to be in a serious condition. They became trapped when they dug into an older mine that had been shut and filled with water. The work safety watchdog has blamed the accident on lax standards by the mine owner, the state-owned Huajin Coking Coal Company.

Catalogue of disasters

Nov 2009 Xinxing mine, Heilongjiang province: 108 dead

Dec 2007 Rui Zhiyuan mine, Shanxi province: 105 killed by poisonous gas

Aug 2007 Xintai City, Shandong province: 181 dead in flooding

Nov 2005 Dongfeng mine, Heilongjiang: 171 dead in explosion

Feb 2005 Sunjiawan mine, Liaoning province : 210 dead

May 1960 Laobaidong mine, Shanxi province: 684 killed in an explosion

April 1942 Benxi, Manchuria: 1,549 dead

153 trapped underground by flooding

Vincent Kolo

China Worker

30 March 2010

Rescuers in northern China's Shanxi province are fighting to save 153 lives in what could potentially be the worst mining disaster for almost three years. The men, mostly migrant construction workers from other provinces, were working on the 'under construction' Wangjialing coalmine on Sunday afternoon when water gushed into the shafts. 108 workers managed to run to safety but rescue operations are being complicated by the fact the trapped men are spread over at least eight different locations. "It looked like a tidal wave and I was so scared," said one of the workers who escaped.

The sudden flooding of the tunnels is probably the result of accidentally drilling into a network of old water-filled shafts. Shanxi, the heartland of China’s coal industry, is riddled with disused and flooded mine tunnels.

"It could be that they broke into old workings, works that were not properly mapped out. That’s a common problem with flooding, and Shanxi is an area where they have very extensive mining, a lot of old mines," said David Feickert, a coalmine safety adviser to the Chinese government.

This latest accident throws a spotlight once again on China’s profit-hungry and hazardous coal sector, the "world’s most dangerous industry". Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners last year, which was a drop of 584 fatalities from 2008, according to figures from the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety. This represents a big drop from 2002 when 6,995 mineworkers perished. However, independent sources say the real level of fatalities is substantially higher as many, especially from accidents at smaller privately-run or illegal mines, are never reported. By various nefarious means – bribing or threatening relatives and covering up evidence – coal bosses manage to escape the fines and possible legal consequences of running what are often extremely dangerous mines. The high price of coal, which powers 70 percent of China’s economy, and low labour costs, make this a lucrative business.

The Wangjialing mine belongs to the state-owned Huajin Coking Coal Company. As part of government drive to improve safety and consolidate the industry, Shanxi province has closed many private mines or forced them to amalgamate with state-owned concerns in the last two years. But as a string of recent accidents in the state-controlled sector show, state ownership by itself is not enough to radically reduce the poor safety practises, lack of training and reckless management methods that typifies the Chinese coal industry. The directors of state-owned coal companies, many of which are listed on the stock market, are just as profit-hungry as private bosses.

Most of workers trapped in the Wangjialing mine are migrants, some from as far away as southern Hunan and Guizhou provinces. They are construction workers, not miners, and it is not clear whether they are directly employed by Huajin or, as is more likely, working for subcontractors. Privately hired construction firms are notorious for lax safety standards and other abuses of a mainly migrant workforce. That this is also probably the case at Wangjialing is borne out by the fact that officials are still checking the number of workers who were underground at the time of the accident. They had originally put the number of trapped workers at 123, a miscount of 30.

Reports have appeared on the internet suggesting the construction work was being rushed in order to open the mine five months ahead of schedule. On Saturday, the day before the flood struck, the Shanxi Daily carried a front-page picture with a caption saying the workers were rushing to finish the project by October, instead of the scheduled opening in February 2011. As a large mine, covering an area of 180 square kilometres and with projected annual production of six billion tonnes of coal a year, the Wangjialing mine will clearly be a highly profitable concern.

A flooded mine in eastern Shandong province led to the death of 172 miners in August 2007. At that mine, also state-owned, it later emerged the miners had tried to stage a pithead protest, refusing to go underground as flooding had already been reported in parts of the mine. Managers claimed the flood was ‘under control’ and threatened to dismiss any worker who refused to go underground. This was mass murder in the name of profit! At another state-owned mine, the Xinxing mine owned by Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group in northeastern China, 106 miners were killed in an underground explosion in late 2009.

Similar cases of bosses sacrificing safety for profit are legion throughout the coal industry. As professor Hu Xingdao, a Beijing-based political analyst commented: "There is certainly blood in our current GDP".

In the US and German coal industries safe production costs account for 25-30 per cent of the total cost of coal production, which is equivalent to an average of 19.25 per cent of coal prices. But in China, safety costs account for a mere 3.5 per cent of the price of coal. The difference – around 16 percent of average coal prices – goes into the pockets of the coal bosses and speculators of the stock market.

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