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2021-01-13 08:12:28

A Chinese mining company is facing scrutiny for waiting 30 hours to report an accident that trapped 22 of its workers underground with no way of communicating with the outside world.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, an explosion occurred in a gold mine located in an area administered by Qixia, a city in eastern China’s Shandong province, local authorities said. But Shandong Wucailong Investment, the company that owns the site, only reported the accident at 8:05 p.m. the next day, officials said. Chinese law requires that mining accidents be reported within one hour.

The company had been trying to rescue the miners itself but had underestimated the difficulty, officials said.

That decision looks to have put the company in serious trouble. “The responsibilities of those involved must be investigated to the end, and there will be zero tolerance,” China Central Television, the country’s state broadcaster, said in a brief commentary Wednesday.

According to the local emergency management bureau, a dynamite explosion occurred in an area where no miners were working, and the trapped miners — a group of 13 and a group of nine — were in sections further down, some 400 meters from the explosion. The blast damaged a subterranean communication system, and rescue workers have not managed to contact the miners.

The accident is the latest to strike China’s notoriously dangerous mining industry. In December, 23 miners in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing died from breathing carbon monoxide gas, two months after a similar accident had killed 16 and injured 38 more.

In an emergency notice dated Tuesday, the Shandong government said it is tasking officials across the province to immediately launch safety inspections of mines and other major industries, and to keep a close eye on companies that might rush to meet work deadlines ahead of the Spring Festival holiday in February.

Zhu Hongqing, a safety engineering professor at China University of Mining and Technology, told The Beijing News that the foremost priorities at the moment are to remove any toxic air released from the blast, contact the trapped miners, and ensure their survival.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, a rescue bucket had reached 180 meters underground, Shandong authorities said in their latest social media post on the rescue. To improve air quality, rescue workers have pumped air to 300 meters below the surface.

A worker at the rescue site told China National Radio on Wednesday that they are drilling holes to establish communication with and deliver supplies to the two groups of miners, though this may take up to five days.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Rescue workers outside the mine in Qixia, Shandong province, Jan. 12, 2021. Xinhua)