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Fire at Chinese coal mine kills 16

September 27, 2020

Authorities say 17 people were trapped by an underground fire that produced dangerously high levels of toxic fumes in the Songzao mine. Only one person survived and was taken to hospital in a critical condition.

An aerial photograph shows the Songzao coal mine in China's southwest
Image: Huang Wei/Xinhua/imago images

Sixteen workers died in a coal mine in southwestern China on Sunday after they become trapped by an underground fire, state media reported.

Emergency workers pulled 17 people from the mine outside the city of Chongqing, but only one was rescued alive. The survivor is reportedly in critical condition in hospital.

Read more:Gas leak kills 18 miners in China's Hunan province 

The blaze started when a conveyor belt caught fire in the early hours of the morning, creating dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, state news agency Xinhua cited the government as saying. An investigation into the incident is underway.

The facility, the Songzao Coal Mine, is owned by state energy firm Chongqing Energy. Conveyor belts are used to transport supplies into and out of mines, but can catch fire due to friction and heat inside the mine, or due to poor maintenance.

Hundreds die in China's mines

Conveyor belt fires are one of the leading causes of mining accidents and deaths around the world every year. China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal, and mining accidents are common due to poor safety regulations.

Chinese coal mines saw 170 fatal accidents leading to 316 deaths in 2019, according to the state-run People's Daily.

China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based labor rights watchdog, said a growing number of coal mine accidents in China are due to gas buildups and "accounted for 37.3% of all coal mine deaths in China" last year.

Read moreMissing miners found dead after China coal mine blast 

The watchdog blamed such accidents on mine operators cutting corners to save money, and said many government regulators still lacked power to enforce safety standards.

At least 14 miners were killed in a coal and gas blast last December at a mine in southwestern Guizhou province.

In December 2018, seven miners were killed in another mining acccident in Chongqing. In October the same year, 21 miners died in eastern Shandong province after pressure inside a mine caused rocks to fracture and break, blocking the tunnel and trapping the workers. Only one miner was rescued alive.

lc/nm (dpa, AFP)