Fatal Mine Blast in Jiangsu Province

27 June 2019
(Broadcast on July 23, 2001)

Murder in the Mines

To date 38 bodies have been recovered from a coalmine in Xuzhou city Jiangsu province. A detachment from the People’s Armed Police as well as ordinary police officers from Xuzhou made up the 800 people taking part in the rescue operation. By Monday night, [the day after the accident - Ed.] hopes for the 54 miners still trapped in the mineshaft were fading. Following the explosion, the aforementioned 800 officers, men and military cadres present were placed on high alert to guard against disturbance to social stability. [A reference to possible protests by the relatives of miners killed the accident - Ed.] The commander of the squadron of armed police, Gu Huiqi, was interviewed by a reporter from Radio Free Asia on Monday evening. He said that the rescue work was going well.

Commander:
The Command Headquarters are currently in a meeting regarding the rescue operation.

Reporter:
How many people are still trapped in the shaft?

Commander:
We are working on that.

Reporter:
How many miners were in the shaft [when the accident happened]?

Commander:
I can’t talk about that. It’s a matter for the city and provincial leaders who are here right now.

Reporter:
How is the rescue operation going?

Commander:
We are making good headway.

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However, the more than 50 miners still trapped in the coal shaft have been down there for two days. An official from the mining bureau confirmed that the outlook was not good for the men and women still trapped. The authorities have not been able to confirm whether there were 105 or 106 people in the mine when the explosion took place.

The Xinhua News Agency reported that the explosion occurred at 9am on the morning of July 22, 260 metres underground at a pit in Gangzi village, Jiawang township on the outskirts of Xuzhou city. The likely cause of the explosion was a build up of gas. Secretary of the Jiangsu Party Committee Hui Liangyu and deputy secretary Li Yuanchao rushed to the scene to direct the rescue operation. A cadre from the [rescue] command centre denied that accidents were a frequent occurrence in the local mines.
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Reporter:
Are accidents a frequent occurrence in the coalmines in your district?

Cadre:
No. This accident is an exception, not the rule. There hasn’t been anything like this for years.

Reporter:
How many coalmines are there in the area?

Cadre:
Hundreds.

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The mine where the accident happened was producing illegally and ordered to close last month. However, it was re-opened by a private operator on July 15 [a month later - Ed.] The operator has been arrested pending an investigation. A worker from a nearby state-owned mine spoke said:
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Worker:
The main thing is that the equipment is no good. It’s just not safe.

Reporter:
Where do the workers in these small mines come from?

Worker:
From the countryside. There have been a lot of lay-offs in private factories in the villages and townships, so these guys come to work in the mines. Private ones.

Reporter:
Why don’t they get jobs in mines like yours [legal and usually state-owned - Ed.] instead of private pits?

Worker:
Our mine only employs formal workers [formally registered miners - Ed.]. We don’t have anyone from the township and village enterprises working here.

Reporter:
So the workers in the small-scale mines are mostly desperately for work?

Worker:
I couldn’t say for sure.

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China’s coal industry is the largest in the world, and has a safety record to match. Last year, 5,300 people died in China’s mines. The official record puts the figure at about 3,000 fatalities. In six weeks spanning May and June this year, 600 people were killed in the mines and last month the government ordered production to cease in all mines while safety checks were carried out. Many illegal privately-run mines were closed as a result. However, most of China’s mine workers come from poor rural areas where work is hard to find. Life is cheap for these people who have to take risks to earn a living and they often have to take jobs in illegal mines. Gangzi village, where this latest explosion took place, is an example of this scenario.

The village committee cannot even afford to pay its telephone bills, as this recorded message from the telephone company on the Gangzi Village Committee office phone illustrates: “Your telephone service has been temporarily suspended due to an outstanding account. Your telephone service has been temporarily suspended due to an outstanding account…
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(HK: Radio Free Asia)
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