Twenty workers were saved and two bodies recovered on Friday from a flooded coal mine after a dramatic rescue operation lasting over two days, officials said.
A huge recovery effort was launched when the illegal mine in northern China’s coal-producing Shanxi province flooded late Wednesday, with authorities vowing to crack down on illicit operations that have sprung up in response to price surges.
State media had previously reported 21 people were trapped in the mine in Xiaoyi city, where hundreds of rescuers workers used pumps to drain the water.
China’s Ministry of Emergency Management said in a statement that 20 miners had been lifted to the surface and two had died as of Friday evening.
“Shanxi province (must) promptly arrange an investigation and collect evidence, use full efforts to pursue fugitives, and pursue accountability in accordance with laws and regulations,” the ministry said, adding the province needs to “severely crack down on illegal mining activities”.
Three top Xiaoyi city officials including the mayor were removed from their posts as a result of the mining accident, the local government announced Friday.
State broadcaster CCTV said a narrow and concealed entrance to the illegal mine had hampered rescue efforts, as well as a lack of a proper map of the site.
Seven suspects have been detained over the accident and police said they were searching for others — including the mine’s owner, reportedly a local villager who fled after the accident.
State TV showed rows of orange-clad rescuers wearing hard hats lifting the miners out on stretchers to ambulances.
China generates about 60 percent of its energy from burning coal, and had ramped up output in recent months to ease an energy shortage that had caused power cuts and forced factories to close.
Authorities said Thursday that high demand for coal has pushed up prices and cases of illegal mining.
The Work Safety Committee of the State Council and the Ministry of Emergency Management called for coal-producing provinces to investigate illegal mines, saying those involved should face criminal proceedings.
In August, the former mayor of Xiaoyi launched a 100-day campaign to crack down on illegal mining carried out by local criminal gangs.
Mining accidents are common in China, where the industry has a poor safety record and regulations are not necessarily enforced.
Nineteen miners died after being trapped underground in a single mine collapse in September.
And in January, 11 out of a group of 22 workers were dramatically rescued from a collapsed mine in eastern China after they spent two weeks trapped hundreds of metres underground.
China’s mine safety body said last week that improved workplace regulations meant there had been 336 mine accidents in 2021 so far — 59 fewer than last year.
But it warned of an increased risk of incidents in December as mines sacrifice production safety for output as the end of the year nears.