When an underground fire killed 35 men at the bottom of a coal shaft last year, the telltale signs of another Chinese mining disaster were everywhere: Black smoke billowed into the sky, dozens of rescuers searched nine hours for survivors, and sobbing relatives besieged the mine’s iron gate.
The New York Times
For three months, no word leaked of the Lijiawa fire.
But though the owner and local government officials took few steps to prevent the tragedy, they succeeded, almost completely, in concealing it.
For nearly three months, not a word leaked from the heart of China’s coal belt about the July 14 explosion that racked the illegal mine, a 1,000-foot wormhole in Hebei Province, about 100 miles west of Beijing.
The mine owner paid off grieving families and cremated the miners’ bodies, even when relatives wanted to bury them. Local officials pretended to investigate, then issued a false report. Journalists were bribed to stay silent. The mine shaft was sealed with truckloads of dirt.
“It was so dark and evil in that place,” said the wife of one miner who missed his shift that day and so was spared. “No one dared report the accident because the owner was so powerful.”
Indeed, the Lijiawa mine tragedy might still be an official non-event, but one brave soul reported the cover-up in September on an Internet chat site. The central government in Beijing stepped in, firing 25 local officials and putting 22 of them under criminal investigation. The results of the inquiry are expected this month.
Such a wide-ranging cover-up might seem unusual in the Internet age, but it remains disturbingly common here. From mine disasters to chemical spills, the 2003 SARS epidemic to the past year’s scandal over tainted milk powder, Chinese bureaucrats habitually hide safety lapses for fear of being held accountable by the ruling Communist Party or exposing their own illicit ties to companies involved.