Saturday, 14 December 2013

Xinjiang coal mine explosion kills 21

A gas explosion killed twenty-one miners early Friday morning at a coal mine in northwestern China, the government said, but the exact cause was not immediately known. More than a dozen other miners were able to escape.

The blast occurred at around 1:40 a.m. local time at the Baiyanggou coal mine in Hutubi County of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, according to Zhou Xiuling, a spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety. A total of 34 miners were working underground when it happened.

Thirteen miners managed to escape the mine, including one who was freed by rescue workers, but his or her condition was not immediately known. The bodies of the 21 other miners were recovered later in the day, officials said, giving no details about what may have caused the accident.

During rescue efforts, temperatures dropped to -5 C, China News Service reported.

Immediately after the explosion, a team entered the mineshaft on Friday morning to ascertain conditions before launching a rescue operation, the report said. Later that afternoon, China Central Television reported that a rescue team was about 300 meters away from where the miners were trapped. The one miner was then rescued.

The rescued worker was in a coma when he was found underground, and he has been sent to the hospital for further medical treatment.

The State Administration of Work Safety said on Friday that the coal mine was once shut down in June because of safety problems.

The coal mine illegally restarted production before the problems were rectified, and that led to the accident, the administration said in a statement.

The administration required coal mines nationwide to enhance safety rules and prohibit illegal production.

The Baiyanggou mine has an annual output of 90,000 tons, and it has been in production since August 2007, China News Service reported.

While safety conditions at mines in China have improved according to statistic from the Chinese government, they are still ranked the most dangerous with 1,384 deaths reported in 2012, a significant decrease from the 1,973 fatalities in 2011. The Chinese government reported 2,433 fatalities in 2010 and 2,631 in 2009.

China shut down scores of small mines in recent years to improve safety and efficiency in the mining industry. The country has also ordered all mines to build emergency shelter systems which are to be equipped with machines to produce oxygen and air conditioning, protective walls and airtight doors to protect workers against toxic gases and other hazardous factors.

One of the worst mining accidents in China in recent years happened in November 2009 when 104 workers were killed after several explosions at a coal mine in Heilongjiang province.

On Dec 6, Premier Li Keqiang ordered intensified efforts to improve work safety standards following a deadly explosion last month in Shandong province that left 62 dead.

He urged a careful review of a nationwide work-safety overhaul this year to learn from deadly accidents.

"Production safety is a life-and-death matter and a red line that must not be crossed," Li said in a written statement as a work safety committee of the State Council, China's Cabinet, held a plenary session in Beijing.

The country should emphasize the prevention of accidents, regularly conduct safety inspections and move to establish a permanent mechanism for ensuring work safety, Li said.

Saturday 14 December 2013

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Dec. 16, 1943: Worst US train collision frozen in memory of witnesses

Seventy years ago this weekend, as North Carolina marked the 40th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, disaster struck on snow-covered railroad tracks in Robeson County. It had been an uncommonly cold winter with no relief in sight. A broken rail had caused the derailment of the Florida-bound Tamiami West Coast Champion, killing one person.

Then, “some 40 minutes later the northbound Tamiami East Coast Champion ploughed into the derailed coaches of the first train wreck which lay sprawled across the double track.”

It happened a long time ago, but Lucille Bullock can remember sitting in her father’s green 1940 Ford on the side of the road and seeing the trains down the railroad tracks in the snow. She would have been about 7 or 8 at the time.

Her family had driven to the site where one Atlantic Coast Line passenger train had hit another a couple of days earlier on the main line near the community of Buie about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 16, 1943.

It was bitter cold on the night of the accident.

Injured passengers trapped in the twisted steel cars screamed for help. As rescue workers cut through the wreckage with acetylene torches, doctors crawled through to administer morphine shots to the trapped survivors. The water in some of the syringes froze in the 10-degree temperatures.

Bullock’s father, George Tolar, visited the scene the day after it happened. “I remember going up there after he had went and come back,” said Bullock. “My mother and grandmother, which was his mother, we went up there and looked at it. But he wouldn’t let me get out and see where it was at. I had to stay in the car.”

Seventy-two people, including 52 servicemen bound for home for the holidays, lost their lives in the train wreck that occurred near the N.C. 211 overhead bridge on the rail line between Buie and Rennert in Robeson County. Almost as many people, 70, were hurt.

“Rescuers battled through the winter’s coldest night over snow and ice-coated highways to bring survivors of the double smashup to hospitals at Lumberton and Fayetteville,” The Associated Press reported. ...

The accident happened about 35 minutes after three cars of the southbound Tamiami West Coast Champion derailed after running across a split rail. This was shortly after the train had passed through Rennert. A dining car and two Pullman sleepers were left tilting, with the first of the derailed cars leaning over the tracks at an angle of about 45 degrees.

The train had left New York at 11:45 a.m. Dec. 15, and was due in St. Petersburg, Fla., the next day.

Once repair efforts began, the conductor sent the fireman down the track to flag oncoming trains. As he walked along the track, he slipped in the snow and fell, damaging his fusee, or colored flare, so that it wouldn’t work.

A couple of southbound freight trains were stopped, but attempts to halt the northbound Tamiami East Coast Champion failed. As that diesel-hauled train passed the railwayman, the crew was unaware of the danger that lay ahead.

The East Coast Champion plowed into its southbound cousin at a speed in excess of 85 mph, hurling hundreds of men, women and children into the wreckage. Both trains carried from 16 to 18 cars apiece and a heavy load of passengers in both sleeping cars and coaches.

Railway offices in Wilmington said nine cars on the northbound train were derailed.

“Scattered about the wreck scene were packages in Christmas wrappings, Army blouses, Marine coats and broken Christmas toys,” an Associated Press report said. “One spectator reported seeing a white satin dress and white veil, evidently the wedding dress of some passenger.”

Horace Tyner of Red Springs recalled seeing a passenger car that had shoved into another from the impact. He went to the site a day or two after the accident.

“It was cold. It was cold. I remember everything all white,” he said. “I remember my first impression – all the rails twisted like pretzels. But that railroad, it was messed up. [For] 150 yards or more. All the bodies were gone. Only thing left of the wreck was the carnage of track, wreckage, wheels, axles and twisted railroad. It was just twisted all to pieces.”

The wreck remains one of the deadliest railroad accidents in the U.S. Reports from the scene relayed stories of heroic efforts by some of the military and civilian passengers in tending to the wounded.

Saturday 14 December 2013

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Suspected mass grave found in Serbia

Human remains believed to be the bodies of hundreds of Albanians killed during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo have found been just inside the Serbian border, a Kosovo official said this afternoon.

More than 14 years after the war ended, Kosovo officials have been pressing Serbia to continue to look for bodies on its territory that may have been moved by Serbian forces trying to cover up killings of majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

"For many years, we have cooperated with informers and they told us that there may be more than 250 bodies, they even mention there may be 400 bodies," Prenk Gjetaj, the head of Kosovo's state commission for missing persons, said.

10,000 people are believed to have died in the crackdown by Serbian police and army on ethnic Albanian rebellion in its former province.

The conflict was halted when NATO launched air strikes against Serbia in 1999.

Most victims were Albanians. More than 1,700 people are still missing.

The investigation leading to the discovery was a joint effort by Kosovo, Serbia and the EULEX, the EU's justice and police mission in Kosovo.

Officials from Kosovo and Serbia are expected to meet soon to discuss how to proceed with further excavations.

The war crimes prosecutor's office in Belgrade declined to comment.

The bodies were found after excavators removed the concrete pavement in the yard of a road maintenance company in Rudnica, just inside southern Serbia, near its border with Kosovo.

Mr Gjetaj did not say how many bodies were found but said a big office building on the site had to be destroyed during the dig.

If confirmed, it would be the sixth mass grave found since 2000.

The largest, containing the bodies of more than 800 Kosovo Albanians, was found in 2001 in pits at a police training ground outside Belgrade.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but relations with Serbia have only started to normalise in the past year, after the EU brokered a deal to integrate the mainly Serb north with the rest of Kosovo.

In exchange, Serbia was offered talks on EU membership, expected to start in January.

Saturday 14 December 2013

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