2017-08-15 15:29:35

The apparent cover-up of a deadly landslide in a mining area has led to the dismissal of one official after a company head turned himself in to police Tuesday, according to a report by state-owned China National Radio (CNR).

The accident occurred on Friday in Heshun County, in northern China’s Shanxi province, killing four people with five still missing. However, the local government initially said on Saturday that no one had died or gone missing, according to CNR. That announcement, which also said that no staff or equipment had been at the site of the landslide, could no longer be accessed on the government’s website on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gao Yang, head of Lüxin Coal Industry Co. Ltd., the mining company where the landslide occurred, turned himself in to local police and confirmed that company employees were dead and missing following the accident. “The city-level and county-level governments have organized rescue operations to confirm the death toll and rescue the missing staff,” the Heshun government wrote in a statement afterward.

“We were all cheated,” said Zhang Senlin, head of the news office of Heshun County, in an interview with The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication. He said it was only after Gao turned himself in that the government came to know the truth of the mining accident. “Gao Yang chose to surrender himself to the police because he could not put up with the psychological pressure,” Zhang added.

Later the same day, the head of the county’s coal bureau was fired for being negligent in his handling of the accident.

According to China’s production safety laws, local government officials and business owners can face legal punishment if they attempt to cover up work accidents or fail to report them to authorities in a timely fashion.

Coal is one of China’s deadliest industries. Official data show that in 2015, a total of 768 people died from coal mining accidents.

According to CNR, local police also detained a person surnamed Guo on Monday for posting “fake information” online saying that people had died in the landslide. In a statement Saturday — since deleted but retrieved by CNR — the coal bureau asked net users not to believe such online rumors.

An official at Heshun County’s coal bureau who answered the phone told Sixth Tone she was not aware of the statement because she was not in charge.

Guo was released Tuesday, following the revelation that the landslide had indeed been fatal.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Miners stand at the entrance of a coal mine in Datong, Shanxi province, Aug. 13, 2003. VCG)