UPDATE: Death toll from NE China coalmine blast rises to 87
HEGANG, Heilongjiang, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) — Struggling hard to hold back her tears, Zhang Xueyan looked at her watch every several minutes. “I could give up anything, if only he could be back safe and sound,” said Zhang, wife of a miner missing in the fatal blast at the Xinxing Coal Mine in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province. Eighty-seven miners have died and 21 others were missing after the blast.
Zhang’s husband, 35-year-old Li Guojun has worked at the mine for five years. He was on night shift at around 2:30 a.m. Saturday when the accident happened. A total of 528 miners were working underground, and 420 managed to escape.
Zhang hurried to the mine on Saturday morning at the news, gazing at rescuers bustling around.
Li is the only child of his parents, who are in their 70s. Zhang dared not to tell them the sad news.
When her eight-year-old girl asked when dad would come back, she had to hide her sorrow and tell her “soon.”
“My daughter cannot live without father,” she began to weep.
Zhang said during the past 40 hours, she kept looking at her watch. Her heart ached with the past of each second.
“He (Li) is the supporting pillar of my family…If anything bad must happen, let the victim be me.”
By Sunday morning, death toll from the accident has risen to a staggering 87, while more than 240 rescuers in 19 group have been sent into the shaft to look for the missing.
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, who arrived at the scene Saturday afternoon, urged all-out efforts to save the trapped miners and to protect rescuers from secondary disasters.
In addition, Zhang ordered to set up a State Council investigation team and also urged officials in other regions to learn lessons from the accident and step up work safety measures.
He also visited the hospital Saturday afternoon, urging medical workers to do their utmost to save the injured miners.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have also made instructions on the rescue work.
Zhang Zhenlong, assistant chief engineer of the state-owned Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group’s subsidiary in Hegang City, went into the shaft hours after the accident.
His eyes red in tiredness, Zhang said they have almost searched all the working areas of the miners.
“Maybe the 21 people are not in the working area or buried by coal,” he said.
Zhang noted that the blast didn’t result in much damage to the laneways, but it crippled the ventilation system and communication facilities and the rescue work in the past a few hours was to repair the ventilation system.
“Fresh air from the outside could add more chances for survival of the trapped miners.”
He refused to estimate the survival chance of the trapped.
“We will try our utmost efforts to save each of them,” he said.
MEMORY OF SURVIVORS
Lying in the hospital affiliated to the Hegang Coal Mine group,54-year-old Yuan Shusheng still trembled in fear.
“I went into the lift immediately after the monitor underground warned of excessive gas, but before I reached the exit, shock wave from the blast lashed me out and I hence fainted until the rescuers pulled me out,” he recalled.
Another miner Fu Maofeng said he just went out of the lift when the accident occurred. Shock wave pushed him down and pebbles were poured upon him like hailstones.
Qu Zhongliang was the one who suffered most serious injuries. His face and hands were burnt and trachea was seriously injured. While doctors cleaned his wounds, he coughed out blood.
“Someone from the hospital called me Saturday morning and I got to know that my husband was injured,” said Huang Guizhen, Qu’s wife.
“Looking at his blood-covered face, I didn’t recognize him at first sight.” When doctors told her about her husband’s condition, Huang wailed.
The Xinxing Coal Mine, located over 400 km east of the provincial capital of Harbin, has an approved annual production capacity of 1.45 million tonnes.
The blast was so severe that according to a footage of the China Central Television, windows of the buildings within 20 meters of the site were all shattered.
Miners said that the monitoring equipment worked well when the accident happened and that they had received regular emergency trainings.
“I have been working in the mine for 33 years and this is the first time that I experience a blast,” said 50-year-old Wang Chaojun.
“In recent years our working condition improved, but gas is dangerous, so dangerous,” he said.
An editorial carried by the Beijing Youth Daily questioned why winters always see major deadly mine accidents.
In 2004, a blast in Xinmi of Henan killed 148.
Also in 2004, one in Tongchuan of Shaanxi killed 166.
In 2005, an explosion in Sunjiawan of Liaoning killed 214.
Earlier this year, one in Gujiao of Shanxi killed 77.
These accidents all happened between October and February.
“Lured by the lucrative winter coal market, many industries made production beyond their capacities,” the editorial said.
Li Zhanshu, governor of Heilongjiang, ordered more efforts in management of coalmines.
“We must put safety first,” he said. “Development is important, but the growth of GDP shouldn’t be achieved at the price of miners’ blood.”