The comments from Li Xueju, China’s Civil Affairs minister, came media reports queried the mine operator’s failure to anticipate the threat of flooding during the monsoon.
The 181 miners – 172 working for Huayuan Mine Co and nine others in a smaller mine nearby – were trapped on Friday afternoon after a river dyke burst following torrential rain, sending water gushing into the shafts in two mines.
“The disaster was caused by heavy rain, not problems within the mine, so it was decided that this was a natural disaster”
Li Xueju, China’s civil affairs minister
Commenting on the response to the flooding, Li said the main cause was the severe weather rather than any problem with the mine itself.
“The disaster was caused by heavy rain, not problems within the mine, so it was decided that this was a natural disaster,” he said.
“Sometimes the alert system may not be timely or accurate enough. They did not imagine the rain would be so heavy and they did not imagine that the river bank would leak,” he added.
He also said the government does not normally pay compensation for deaths caused by natural disasters.
But he added that this accident was “different because it happened during production, so I believe the government and enterprise will give assistance to those injured and killed”.
|Grieving relatives are demanding compensation
from the government [Reuters]
The tragedy however has raised questions as to why the owners sent miners into the nearly 1,000-meter deep shaft as the flooding threat grew, and other mines in the area closed.
A safety official said mine owners had failed to anticipate the threat of disaster.
Huang Yi, a spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety, said authorities did not heed signs of potential calamity despite 15 reported cases of mines being flooded following heavy rains.
“This shows that responses to accidents sparked by natural disasters have been inadequate, some employers have been lackadaisical and the preparation plans of the concerned parties been inadequate,” he told the China Youth Daily.
According to the paper, rescuers hoping to drain the mine face more than 12 million cubic metres of water mixed with 300,000 cubic metres of mud and coal.
On Tuesday technical experts involved in rescue operations acknowledged the difficulty of draining the main shaft.
Xinhua quoted an expert as saying it may take “100 days to drain the floodwater”.
China’s coal mine industry is the most dangerous in the world, with an average of 13 miners killed in accidents every day.