Three new explosions rocked the Chenjiashan mine in north China yesterday but rescuers searching for the bodies of 166 workers killed in a weekend blast escaped unharmed, as relatives demanded better compensation.
The first blast ripped through the mine at 3:25am with another two in the next four hours, high-lighting the dangers facing rescue teams.
Sixty-one people were in the pit at the time looking for the bodies of 101 miners still missing after a massive gas explosion on Sunday, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The rescue team was lifted to safety soon after the first blast, which was not unexpected with dense gas still swirling through the tunnels and fires still burning.
"Because the gas density is so high, blasts can happen anytime," a Shaanxi coal mine safety bureau official said, but declined to say if the rescue workers had been in a danger zone.
An expert quoted by the China Daily said the temperature at the site of Sunday's explosion could be as high as 1,000? to 2,000?C, suggesting that retrieving the bodies would be difficult.
"Improving ventilation may reduce the gas density but increase the risk of fire," said Wang Xianzheng, director of the National Safe Production Supervision and Administration Bureau.
"While reducing ventilation may reduce the risk of fire, it may increase the density of gas," he said.
A local official at the scene said the priority was to extinguish fires underground to bring the bodies out and prevent irreparable damage to the mine.
"The mine's losses will be immense if the fires are not put out and more explosions occur," said Yan Mangxue, the party secretary for a local village where some of the dead miners are from.
"If the mine is destroyed more than 20,000 people will lose their source of income, including miners and their families," he said.
The government-owned mine, which has been in operation for about 20 years, has 3,400 emplo-yees, Xinhua said. A total of 293 workers were underground when the accident happened. Some 127 escaped.
Local officials and families have blamed the disaster on negligence and greed by managers, saying they ignored dangerous gas levels detected several days earlier and insisted miners kept working.
Up to 800 relatives, colleagues and local residents protested outside the township government office on Wednesday demanding answers. At least 40 of them then stormed the four-story building, smashing windows, breaking furniture and assaulting officials.
Yesterday 600 to 700 people returned to the mine, demanding to see bodies of their loved ones and more compensation.
The mine and the Shaanxi government offered to pay families 51,500 yuan (US$6,200) but no monthly living expenses for wives aged under 50, Yan said.
"There are a lot of people out there. They want to see the bodies of their fathers, husbands," said Wang Hongyan, whose husband was killed in the blast.