Rescuers pulled more bodies from a coal mine in central China, raising the confirmed death toll to 122 in a massive gas explosion, with 26 miners still missing, the government said Tuesday.
Rescuers were still searching for survivors in the Daping Mine near the central city of Zhengzhou, where the blast occurred last Wednesday, though the government has said there is little chance that any missing miners are still alive. The previous death toll had been 86.
Rescue efforts were hampered by rubble in the gas-choked tunnels of the Daping Mine near the central city of Zhengzhou, the state Xinhua News Agency said.
The explosion was China’s deadliest mine accident this year. In 2000, a gas explosion killed 162 people in a coal mine in the southern province of Guizhou.
Government officials have pointed to last week’s disaster as proof of China’s failure to enforce safety in its accident-plagued coal mines, where 4,153 people were killed in fires, floods and other disasters in the first nine months of this year.
“It’s been a hard day for us rescuers,” Xinhua quoted Liu Xinshu, chief of the Daping Mine’s rescue brigade, as saying. “This was the worst coal mine accident I’ve seen in more than 30 years, and the rescue work is a tough challenge to us.”
'No evidence of survivors'
Rescuers reportedly were looking for the missing miners some 1,000 feet below the surface and two miles from the entrance of the vast mine.
“There is no evidence of survivors,” Xinhua said.
China is one of the world’s biggest coal users. Though the government is trying to switch to cleaner fuels, the surging economy’s energy demands have increased pressure on coal suppliers.
The industry employs hundreds of thousands of miners, many working in small, poorly equipped mines.
Thousands hold out hope
The government says most fatalities occur in small mines that often lack safety equipment. But the state-owned Daping Mine is reportedly one of China’s biggest, employing 4,100 people.
More than 1,300 relatives of missing miners have gathered at the coal mine hoping for news of loved ones, Xinhua said.
Rescue officials were using DNA tests to identify some miners, the agency said, suggesting that their bodies were damaged beyond recognition in the explosion.
Last week, distraught relatives scuffled with guards outside the mine gate, demanding information on the status of the search.
The Daping Mine explosion was one of three fatal disasters to strike China’s coal mines within 16 hours last Wednesday. An underground flood in a mine in the northern province of Hebei trapped 29 miners who are still missing. Another 12 miners were killed by a gas explosion near the city of Chongqing.