China gold mine fire kills 16 workers

BEIJING, Aug 7, 2010 (AFP) - Sixteen workers died when a fire broke out in a gold mine in east China, state media reported Saturday, in the latest accident to hit the nation's dangerous mining sector this week.

Most of the victims died of toxic smoke inhalation underground or in hospital after the accident, which happened on Friday in Shandong province's Zhaoyuan city, the official Xinhua news agency said.

More than 300 miners had been working underground when the blaze started and most were lifted to ground level safely, but about 50 were left trapped, a spokesman for the rescue headquarters was quoted as saying.

Rescuers then gradually managed to pull more workers out until the last seven were rescued earlier Saturday.

Dozens of injured miners were sent to nearby hospitals, and most of these did not have life-threatening conditions, doctors were quoted as saying.

"We smelt a pungent odour and suspected something might have gone wrong. We closed the vents and waited to be rescued," said Lu Ming, one of the miners being treated in hospital, according to Xinhua.

The work safety bureaus in Zhaoyuan and Shandong refused to comment on the accident when contacted by AFP, and calls to the city and provincial governments went unanswered.

According to an initial investigation, the blaze broke out in a shaft at the gold mine when an electric cable caught fire. The mine was fully licensed but police have taken the director in for questioning, Xinhua said.

Meanwhile, a gas outburst at a coal mine in the southwestern province of Sichuan on Saturday trapped six miners underground, the report said, in yet another accident in the sector.

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