Grieving miners’ families demanded answers today from mining officials about the underground gas explosion that left at least 104 men dead in northeastern China.
The massive blast in Hegang city in frigid Heilongjiang province erupted at night when some 500 miners were working below ground.
Most escaped, but 104 were confirmed dead and an additional four were missing and feared dead, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The explosion at the Xinxing coal mine, which belongs to the state-owned Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group, was the deadliest in China’s mining industry in two years, and has highlighted how heavy demand for power-generating coal comes at a high human cost.
At the gates of the mining company’s offices, family members and friends confronted mining officials with questions until some of them were escorted into an office by police, security guards and other officials.
“Why don’t you tell us anything?” one shouted. “Not even a phone call!”
Inside the room, Liu Shujiu, whose 38-year-old husband Zhang Shulai was among the victims, broke down in tears as she sat in a chair
“Why haven’t they told us anything?” she wailed. “We had to hear from others at the mine.”
A mine official held up a list of miners’ names and tried to calm the crowd: “There are certainly dead. You don’t take it well, we know. But there’s a process. I feel as bad as you.”
He paused before admitting that the delay in informing family members was a mistake.
“In this, we were wrong,” he said.
Ms Liu, who said mining officials had brought her rice but little information over the weekend, said officials have given families no information about the details and circumstances of the blast.
“We thought the state mines were safe. Why did he die?” she said. The couple have a nine-year-old daughter, whom she had not yet told. “How do I tell her that her father is not coming home?”
Another woman, whose husband Hou Yubin was among the dead, remained seated and silent. She was later laid across some chairs with an IV in her arm as a nurse hovered nearby.
An investigation is under way by China’s State Administration of Work Safety, as top leaders were dispatched to Heilongjiang.
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang arrived over the weekend to oversee the rescue effort, and urged safety measures to be stepped up at coal mines nationwide. Search and rescue efforts appeared to be over at the blast site by this morning.
The Xinxing mine’s director, deputy director and chief engineer were fired, said an employee.