Hundreds of rescuers were struggling Tuesday to find 15 coal miners still trapped a day after a gas explosion killed 18 of their colleagues in western China.
Whether the 15 are alive was not known more than 24 hours after the blast ripped through the privately owned Jinshangou mine in the sprawling Chongqing region in southwest China. Just two miners are confirmed to have survived the blast.
Thirteen fatalities had been confirmed Tuesday morning. Later, five more bodies were recovered from among the 33 people who had been trapped in the shaft following the explosion, Xinhua News Agency and CCTV News reported.
The searchers were being hindered by debris blocking some of the mine’s passageways.
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“We are still going all-out in our search for the 20 missing miners,” Chongqing’s deputy mayor Mu Huaping said. “And will continue to do so as long as there’s still a ray of hope.”
More than 400 rescuers worked through the night, digging carefully through debris from the collapse to avoid secondary disasters. At least 20 ambulances and dozens of medical workers are standing by.
Winch operator Liu Fuxiu was working 40 meters from the mine entrance and said she was knocked off her feet by the blast. She received injuries to her face and back.
“My injuries are nothing,” she said to investigators. “I have a relative down the pit and I hope he is still alive.”
Gas explosions inside mines are often caused when a flame or electrical spark ignites gas leaking from the coal seam. Ventilation systems are supposed to prevent gas from becoming trapped.
Police are looking into possible misconduct by the mine’s management team.
Jiang Wenge, legal representative of mine, and the manager of the mine are being questioned, according to Luo Qingquan, head of the district government.
The State Administration of Work Safety ordered an investigation into the blast, “adding that those responsible must be strictly punished.”
Following the explosion, Chongqing has ordered a safety overhaul and temporarily closed all coal mines with less than 90,000 tonnes of annual output.
The Jinshangou mine has a designed annual output of 60,000 tonnes, according to its license.
The head of the State Administration of Work Safety said earlier this year that struggling coal mines might be likely to overlook maintenance.
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal but plans to shutter more than 1,000 outdated mines as part of a broader plan to reduce overproduction.
Story by Xinhua and the Associated Press