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Latest mine disaster raises outcry

| Monday, Nov. 23, 2009

HEGANG, China — When gas levels suddenly spiked deep in the Xinxing coal mine, Wang Jiguo grabbed two co-workers, and they ran for their lives. Minutes later, there was a huge bang, a torrent of hot air, and the earth shuddered.

Nearly two days later, at least 92 people are reported dead and 16 missing, the official Xinhua news agency said. The deadliest accident in China's mining industry in two years has highlighted how heavy demand for power-generating coal comes at a high human cost.

"Development is important, but the growth of GDP shouldn't be achieved at the price of miners' blood," said provincial governor Li Zhanshu, urging officials to better manage coal mines.

Coal is vital for China's economy, which is targeted to grow by 8 percent his year, and its 1.3 billion people, as it is used to generate about three-quarters of the country's electricity.

The blast at the nearly 100-year-old mine in Heilongjiang province, near the Russian border, dealt a blow to the central government's race to improve safety, which has included the shuttering or absorbing of hundreds of smaller, private mines into state-owned operations.

The government says the closure of about 1,000 dangerous small mines last year has helped cut fatalities. Yet hundreds still die in major accidents each year, even at state-run mines, such as a blast in Shanxi province in February that killed 78, and a gas leak in Chongqing municipality in May that killed 30.

After Saturday's accident, the Xinxing mine's director, deputy director and chief engineer were fired, said an employee, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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