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Chile miners' rescue captures Chinese watchers

By the CNN Wire Staff
Mine workers carry pipes to the entrance to the Wangjialing coal mine during rescue efforts on March 31.
Mine workers carry pipes to the entrance to the Wangjialing coal mine during rescue efforts on March 31.
  • In 2002, the deadliest year, nearly 7,000 Chinese miners were killed
  • Coal helps fuel China's surging economy
  • The country is one of the largest producers and consumers of coal
  • It tripled its annual output from 1999 to 3 billion tons in 2009

Beijing, China (CNN) -- As much of the world watched the dramatic rescue of trapped miners in Chile, some in China wondered whether their country would have gone to such lengths.

"If this mine accident happens in China, can those trapped miners survive until now?" asked a user on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of the microblogging site Twitter.

China, one of the world's largest producers and consumers of coal, also has one of the world's deadliest records for miners. News of the injury and deaths of miners appears regularly in state media. Other reports include tainted air and water and weakened dams because of questionable mining tactics.

Coal helps fuel China's surging economy. The country tripled its annual output of coal from 1 billion tons in 1999 to 3 billion tons in 2009, according to the state-run China Daily.

Accidents killed 2,631 Chinese coal miners in 2009, according to China Daily. The most dangerous year on record was 2002, with 6,995 deaths.

Video: Elation as miners surface
Video: Rescued miner very thankful
Video: Chilean president gives thanks

In China, poor safety conditions, a lack of training and the flouting of laws contribute to the high number of deaths.

By comparison, the United States had 34 mining deaths in 2009, a record low for the country. In 2008, the United States had 53 mining deaths, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

A typical Chinese miner works 21 shifts a month, for 12 hours a shift, according to the state-run newspaper.

"It felt like hell," one miner said of his first time down in a maze of mine tunnels.

Wang Gang, a 24-year-old miner, gave his account to China Daily.

"Given a choice, I would never work in a mine," said Wang, whose father and grandfather were miners.

He turned to mining in March 2009 only after starting a family. He became a miner at the Wangping Mine Co. in northern Shanxi province, a state mine where his father once worked.

Wang's wife stays up till he returns from work safely, among many such concerned family members in the coal-rich province.

China's central broadcaster, CCTV, showed live coverage of the Chilean rescue on national television Wednesday.

The coverage was similar to that of a mine rescue on March 28 in China's Shanxi Province. More than 150 miners were trapped for over a week, after a rush of underground water flooded their mine. More than 120 miners were rescued one by one to cheers as the country watched on national television.

In July, Premier Wen Jiabao ordered Chinese mine bosses to spend more time inside mine shafts with workers and to prioritize mining safety.

On October 7, China's work safety administration began requiring mine bosses to regularly go underground with workers. Authorities lauded the regulation as a strong incentive to improve safety conditions and accountability. Fines for skipping regular visits range from 10,000 yuan to 80 percent of a boss's income from the previous year. Punishment also can include a life ban from mine work, according to work safety officials.

The regulation has yielded questionable results, however. Last month in Guangxi, mine bosses visited a pit for a routine inspection. Shortly after, seven assistants were promoted to managerial roles to complete their bosses' former obligation in the mine, according to local news reports.

CNN's Jo Ling Kent and Helena Hong contributed to this report.

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Rescue effort galvanizes Chile
The mine rescue turned into a celebration and expression of Chilean pride
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Few events have gripped the watching world in recent times as the miners' rescue
Timeline: How the drama unfolded
From cave-in to freedom -- 69 days below ground
360 panorama of rescue site
CNN's interactive gives a 360-degree sweep of the site of the Chile mine rescue