Flood in coal mine in China traps 28 workers

Water flooded a small Chinese coal mine Sunday, trapping 28 people as they did safety work to expand the mine’s capacity, an official and state media said.

BEIJING — Water flooded a small Chinese coal mine Sunday, trapping 28 people as they did safety work to expand the mine’s capacity, an official and state media said.

It was the latest mining accident for China, which has the world’s deadliest coal mines.

Forty-one workers were underground at the Batian mine in the southwestern province of Sichuan at the time, said an official surnamed Xie with the provincial work safety bureau.

He said 13 workers escaped and rescue work was continuing for the 28 missing.

“We still have hope of finding them alive,” Xie said.

It was not clear what caused the flooding.

Xie said pumps to remove the water were on the way to the mine in Neijiang city. An estimated 141,000 cubic feet (4,000 cubic meters) of water was in the mining pit, he said.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Batian had stopped production and was being upgraded to increase its annual capacity from 50,000 tons to 60,000 tons. It said workers had been underground Sunday for safety work.

China depends on coal for 70 per cent of its energy production.

The country’s mines are the deadliest in the world, with more than 2,600 people killed in coal mine accidents in 2009 alone.

However, that was sharply lower than the 7,000 deaths in 2003, even though coal output has more than doubled since then.

The country’s leaders have been making a high-profile push to improve mine safety.

Premier Wen Jiabao this summer ordered mining bosses into the shafts and pits with their workers or else risk severe punishment.

Mining fatalities have decreased in recent years as China closed many illegal mines or absorbed them into state-owned companies, but deaths increased in the first half of this year.

Xie said the Batian mine is small and privately owned. It is about 90 miles (150 kilometres) southeast of the provincial capital, Chengdu.

The mine does not have a registered telephone number and could not be contacted Sunday.

Xinhua quoted Lin Shucheng, chief of the provincial work safety bureau, as saying the mine’s operation was legal.

“Its business license and production permits are valid,” he said.

The Chinese public is sensitive to the issue of mining safety, and some criticized the country’s response to mining accidents after the rescue of 33 trapped miners in Chile last month.

China had its own amazing mine rescue earlier this year, when 115 workers were pulled from a flooded mine in the northern province of Shanxi after more than a week underground. The miners survived by eating sawdust, tree bark, paper and even coal.

But experts say more needs to be done, particularly in preventing accidents from occurring.

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