Death toll rises after major gas leak at Chinese coal mine

By Dorothy Davis

Hopes continued to dim Monday when rescuers recovered another four bodies from the Pingyu Coal & Electric Co. Ltd-owned coal mine in Central China, raising the death toll to 30 and leaving 7 unaccounted for according to The State Administration of Work Safety.

"Based on experience, the remaining miners could be buried in coal dust, so the chances of survival are slim," said Du Bo, deputy chief of the rescue operation headquarters, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Early Saturday morning, a massive gas blast generated enough force to push nearly 2,500 tons of coal dust into the mine pit and block a shaft holding 276 workers. More than 200 of the workers were able to immediately escape, but the build up of combustible gasses curbed rescue efforts in attempting to reach those still trapped.

Liu Wenbin, a deputy chief engineer of the company that owns the mine, was in the pit when the accident happened and organized the initial escape.

“At around 6 a.m., I felt there was something wrong with the airflow in the shaft, and one of the team captains told me he also felt it and had already reported the problem,” said Liu.

Chinese authorities have since tightened security around the mine, blocking entry points and barring reporters. Friends and family members who stood vigil near the mine entrance over the weekend were nowhere to be found this morning.

Another gas leak at the same mine killed 23 people in 2008.

China is the world’s largest coal producer, but also ranks lowest for mine safety. High coal demand and insufficient safety regulations have contributed to high casualties, with more than 2,600 people killed in coal mine accidents in 2009 alone.

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