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Quake may have caused deadly coal mine fire

Shanghai Daily, November 27, 2014 Adjust font size:

A coal mine fire killed at least 26 workers and injured 50 others in northeast China's Liaoning Province early yesterday.

The fire broke out at 2:35am in a mine in Fuxin City operated by Hengda Coal, a subsidiary of state-owned Liaoning Fuxin Coal Corp.

The Fuxin mine said 89 workers were in the pit when the fire started, but only 13 managed to escape without injury.

An initial investigation found that the fire had been triggered by coal dust burning in the mine's ventilation system.

However, investigators are also looking into the possibility that a 1.6-magnitude earthquake recorded near the mine at around 1:30am was connected to the tragedy.

Survivor Zhou Bin said a strong blast of coal dust had hit him and he couldn't see anything, China National Radio reported.

"I was so scared that I had thought I might die today," he told the radio station. "But finally we arrived at the pithead in 20 minutes."

He said he and his colleagues walked, rolled and crawled their way to safety.

Twenty-four people died at the scene while two of the most seriously injured died later after emergency treatment failed.

A doctor at a hospital run by the mining company told Xinhua news agency that 30 of the injured were in a critical condition. Eight are in the intensive care unit, with four fighting for their lives.

The injured mostly suffered respiratory damage and burns, including one man who had burns over 70 percent of his body.

Safety checks at Hengda mines

The doctor said some of the injured might have to be moved to hospitals in Shenyang, the capital city to Liaoning Province, some 200 kilometers away. The journey would take around three hours, she said.

Hengda Coal has halted operations in all of its mines for safety checks.

Established in 1978, Liaoning Fuxin Coal is one of the largest coal producers in northeast China with an annual production of 1.5 million tons.

Since 2005, the company has been involved in at least six incidents, resulting in 277 deaths, according to The Beijing News.

The worst tragedy was on February 14, 2005, when an explosion in the Sunjiawan coal mine killed 214 workers and injured 30 others.

Gas exploded about 242 meters underground when 574 miners were at work — 330 managed to escape but 244 were trapped beneath the shaft.

Rescue efforts were halted eight days later after the 214th body was recovered.

China's mines are the most dangerous in the world, although improved safety measures have considerably lowered death tolls in accidents.

The National Coal Administration reported 1,067 deaths in 604 coal mining accidents in 2013, down 23 percent from the year before. That marks a decline from more than 6,000 per year a decade ago.

The decline has coincided with plateauing demand for coal as the Chinese economy cools from the dizzying heights of the past decade.

China is the world's biggest consumer of coal, relying on it for 65.7 percent of its energy needs last year, Xinhua reported previously.

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