At least five people have died and 48 are missing after an open-pit coalmine collapsed in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region in north China.
One of the walls of the mine caved in at about 1pm local time on Wednesday, burying workers in tonnes of rocks and sand. Another collapse occurred five hours later, forcing the rescue operation to halt. The search resumed on Thursday morning, with fireengines, SUVs, bulldozers and rescue dogs being mobilised from across the province.
About 900 government-approved rescue workers were at the scene, and residents in the area had been sent to a neighbouring town. President Xi Jinping called for “all-out efforts in search and rescue” and the maintenance of “social stability”.
An investigation into the cause of the disaster was under way. Drone footage suggested the pile of debris left by the collapse was about 500 metres long.
The mine is operated by Inner Mongolia Xinjing Coal Industry. Last year the company was fined for several safety violations, including insecure routes in and out of the mine and unsafe storage of volatile materials. In June 2022, two workers were found to be working in the mine without the correct certification.
The company has also been involved in hundreds of lawsuits relating to unpaid debts between 2014 and 2022, according to state media. It has yet to issue a statement about the disaster.
Inner Mongolia is one of China’s top three coal-producing regions. Along with Shanxi and Shaanxi, it produces 90% of the country’s coal. In recent years the government has pushed for more output from the industry in an effort to boost GDP and stockpile fuel reserves. Last year China produced a record 4.5bn tonnes of coal, a 9% increase on 2021.
As companies seek to boost productivity and cut costs, accidents remain common. In July a coalmine in neighbouring Gansu province collapsed, killing 10 people and injuring six others.
In recent years the government has put a greater emphasis on the enforcement of safety regulations and forced some smaller mines that lack appropriate safety equipment to close. There were 356 mining accidents in 2021, down from 434 in 2020, according to official statistics.