- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

GUJIAO, China | Rescuers wearing headlamps and oxygen backpacks carried dozens of miners to safety Sunday after a gas explosion at a coal mine in northern China killed at least 74.

The blast at the mine, which had for years boasted an exemplary safety record, highlighted the perilous conditions that make China’s mining industry the deadliest in the world.

Survivors described how they tried to flee along tunnels to escape the choking carbon monoxide, but were overcome by the fumes.

“When it happened, I felt a big gust of wind that blew me over,” a miner who did not give his name told state broadcaster CCTV from his hospital bed. “I got up and started running to try to get to the surface. After that I don’t know what happened.”

The official Xinhua News Agency said 436 miners were in the Tunlan Coal Mine in Gujiao city near Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, when the pre-dawn blast occurred.

At least 74 miners died and 114 others were hospitalized, including six in critical condition, Xinhua said, making it China’s deadliest mine disaster in more than a year.

All the miners who had been trapped underground were found by late Sunday, Xinhua said, citing the rescue headquarters. It was not clear whether all the bodies had been recovered.

One survivor, Xue Huancheng, told Xinhua from his hospital bed that he remembered being ordered to flee because the ventilation system had broken down.

“Power supply underground was cut off, and we had to walk,” he said.

Even though he was using an oxygen tank to help him breathe, Mr. Xue said he fainted after walking for 40 minutes, just as he neared the exit. He awoke two hours later in a hospital.

Most of the injured miners were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, Xinhua said, citing doctors. Exposure to carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas; can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea; and may lead to death.

The mine is owned by Shanxi Coking Coal Group, China’s largest producer of coking coal, which is used in the production of steel. The company said it is the world’s second-largest coking coal producer, with sales revenues that topped $5.4 billion in 2007. Xinhua said it operated 28 mines.

Xinhua said that Tunlan Coal Mine had among the best facilities of any mine in China and that no major accidents had occurred there in five years. The mine produces 5 million tons of coking coal a year.

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