Mon, Aug 27, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Families of dead miners receive `comfort' money

AFP , BEIJING

The families of 181 miners presumed dead after two pits were flooded in eastern China 10 days ago have each received 2,000 yuan (US$260) in "comfort" money from local officials, state media reported.

"This is not a big amount, but it helps in some way to comfort them," Xinhua news agency quoted the official in charge of the fund in Shandong Province as saying on Saturday.

A team of officials paid 2,000 yuan to each bereaved family plus an additional 200 yuan to each individual family member, Xinhua said.

The tragedy at the two mines near the city of Xintai is one of the worst disasters to hit China's infamous coal mining industry.

The central government in Beijing last week classified it as a "natural disaster" rather than an industrial accident, freeing authorities and mine owners from any obligation to pay workers' compensation to the families.

That decision triggered anger among relatives, many of whom had clashed with security guards and police at the mine sites while waiting for news of rescue efforts.

It also was at odds with state media reports that said the disaster could have been avoided if officials had heeded flood warnings at the Zhangzhuang mine where 171 men were trapped, and at a second site where nine were missing.

Torrential rains caused the Wen River to burst its banks, sending water pouring into the mines that sit 10km apart.

Workers from an earlier shift, who eventually escaped, reported the rising water levels and submerged work areas at the Zhangzhuang mine, but the management did not immediately respond, the China Daily reported last week.

"I feel very angry," said a brother of a missing worker at the Zhangzhuang mine. "Yes, the rain was heavy, but the management of the mine should be held responsible for making them work in such conditions."

Another relative of a missing miner, surnamed Zhang, said that it was well known that mine bosses had ignored the warning signals.

"Other mines in the areas shut down in time and they were fine," he said.

China's coal mines are the most dangerous in the world and local officials and industry bosses are accused of colluding to maximize profits at the expense of the safety of their miners.

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