Search for survivors continues at fatal Chinese mine collapse site

Article by Amanda Jasi

A LARGE-scale rescue effort is ongoing after reports of an open-pit coal mine collapse in China, which has killed at least five people, while 48 remain missing. Six survivors have been reported so far.

Reportedly caused by a landslide, the collapse occurred at about 13:00 local time on 22 February, at a mine in Alxa League, Inner Mongolia. Press states it left workers tapped under debris covering about 500 m across and about 80 m high.

News outlets say Chinese president Xi Jingping called for “all-out efforts” of search and rescue and to treat survivors, but the search for survivors was halted about five hours after the collapse when a second landslide occurred. According to BBC News, this was later followed by another landslide.

In the early hours of today before search and rescue relaunched, there were reportedly about 900 rescuers at the site. Xinhua news agency reports that these efforts are aided by telecom “giants” providing communication support.

Associated Press says that local residents were evacuated to a nearby town, and only government authorised personnel are permitted on the rescue site.

The cause of the incident is currently unknown, but an investigation has been launched.

Reuters reports that following the collapse local governments in several regions, including Inner Mongolia, ordered coal miners – especially of open-pit mines – to immediately conduct safety checks, and local authorities to carry out inspections.

This latest incident is another reported in China where, despite government assurances about improving industrial safety, disastrous events continue to occur. Recent  In December 2020, 23 deaths caused by a carbon monoxide leak at a coal mine were reported. Just a month later, in January 2021, 10 people were reported dead after an explosion at a gold mine. 

Striving to meet strong coal demand

China is the world’s top coal producer, with Inner Mongolia accounting for a third of production. It is also a major consumer. IEA’s Coal 2022 report highlighted that though production grew by 4% in 2021 to 3.9bn t, supply failed to keep pace with demand from both power and non-power industries, resulting in energy shortages.

Over the past year, there has been a nation-wide effort to boost domestic supply and lower prices by increasing expansion at existing mines and restarting closed operations.

South China Morning Post speculates that the fatal open-coal mine incident in Alxa League could hinder the nation’s ability to economically recover following the end of zero-Covid policies.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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