Authorities in China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region have ordered inspections at all opencast mines, as the death toll from this week’s mine collapse in the region rose to six and as the search continued for 47 people who are still missing.
About half of Inner Mongolia’s coal mines are opencast operations. It was unclear if the mines will continue operating during the safety inspections, which were announced on Chinese state media on Friday.
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Six people have been confirmed dead and six were found alive under the debris following the mine collapse on Wednesday at the Xinjing Coal Mining Company.
More than 50 people were trapped when a 180-metre-high (590 feet) slope gave way at the opencast mine in Inner Mongolia’s Alxa League region at about 1pm (05:00 GMT) on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Hundreds of rescue workers were dispatched to the remote site on Thursday but another landslide later that day temporarily halted efforts to save those trapped beneath the rubble. Rescuers managed to resume the search later, CCTV reported.
Footage from the broadcaster showed rescue workers in orange overalls and yellow helmets dwarfed by a mountain of rust-coloured rubble, and excavators working to clear some of the debris.
“I had just started work when I saw slag falling down the slope. The situation got worse and worse,” a rescue worker named Ma Jianping told CCTV.
“We tried to organise an evacuation, but it was too late – the slope came down,” he said from a hospital bed in the neighbouring Ningxia region, a catheter protruding from his throat.
State media initially reported that the collapse had affected a “wide area” of the mine operated by the Xinjing Coal Mining Company.
What caused the collapse?
Chinese President Xi Jinping has instructed authorities to “do everything possible to search for and rescue the missing people”, state media reported on Wednesday.
It was not clear what caused the collapse, and calls to the company by the AFP news agency went unanswered on Thursday.
CCTV on Thursday said police were investigating the collapse, with “the relevant personnel currently under control”. The report did not share further details.
A video posted on social media by a coal truck driver on Wednesday showed rocks cascading down a slope, kicking up clouds of dust that engulfed several vehicles.
“The whole slope has collapsed … How many people must be dead from that?” a male voice can be heard saying in the background.
“If I’d lined up over there today, I’d have died in there, too.”
Inner Mongolia is a key region for mining coal and other minerals in China, which critics say has ravaged the original landscape of mountains, grassy steppe and deserts.
Mine safety in China has improved in recent decades, but accidents still occur frequently in an industry where safety protocols are often lax, especially at the most rudimentary sites.
Some 40 people were working underground when a gold mine in the northwestern Xinjiang region collapsed in December. More than half of them were rescued.
In 2021, 20 miners were rescued from a flooded coal mine in northern Shanxi province while two others died.