China Suspends Officials in Mine Disaster

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BEIJING -- Chinese authorities have suspended local officials and detained executives of an illegal iron-ore mine where a drainage pond caused a deadly mudslide this week, as the country continues to struggle with the human cost of its rapid industrialization.

[China Suspends Mien Officials] Reuters

The mother of Huang Fuxuan (center) was among the victim of a mudslide near an illegal mine.

The death toll in Monday's disaster rose Friday to 178, with possibly more people buried in the sea of mud, which covered 74 acres. Officials say initial findings indicate heavy rains, which broke a retaining wall at a waste dump operated by Tashan Mining Co., eventually caused the landslide.

According to state media, the sludge and liquid iron-ore waste buried an outdoor market and a village of 1,300 residents. Rescue work is continuing, but an official at the Xiangfen disaster relief center said Friday that the rainy season made rescue efforts more complicated.

This is the fourth mining-related disaster in less than two weeks, illustrating the deadly nature of China's mining industry. Despite years of safety campaigns and efforts to upgrade worker safety, many companies disregard safety standards, especially in the mining business.

Iron ore is in short supply in China, which imports about half its demand. That has spurred thousands of small-scale Chinese operators to open ore mines, which operate illegally but often are tolerated by local officials. Though iron-ore prices have come down recently, they hit a record high earlier this year.

State media said Thursday China has more than 9,000 mine waste dumps, and more than half operate without safety licenses. Tashan Mining itself didn't renew its production-safety license after it expired in 2006, and its mining license also had expired last year, state media reported.

Thirteen company officials, including the mine owner and senior managers, have been arrested, according to state media and Wang Quanmin, a spokesman from the Linfen municipal government that administers Xiangfen. Mr. Wang also said several local officials, including a party chief and the Xiangfen work safety bureau chief, have been suspended from their duties.

It isn't clear what will happen to those found guilty of mismanaging the mine or whether the culprits will be executed, as often happens when Chinese authorities want to warn others after a high profile case. A spokeswoman from the State Administration of Work Safety said an investigation is continuing and that those responsible will be "punished in line with the relevant laws."

-- Bai Lin in Shanghai contributed to this article.

Write to Jason Leow at jason.leow@wsj.com

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