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China official calls mining accident natural disaster (8/22)

The flooding that trapped 181 miners inside two coal mines was caused by a natural disaster, but if the miners are found dead the families would likely be compensated, a Chinese Cabinet minister said Wednesday.

The remarks by Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju were further confirmation that Beijing regarded the accidents last Friday as acts of nature. The designation is important because the government has no set compensation scheme in natural disasters, while families of mining accident victims are supposed to receive $27,000 each, the Associated Press reports.

The miners — 172 in a mine belonging to the Huayuan Mine Co. and nine in a smaller nearby mine — were trapped when torrential rains undermined a river dike in the eastern province Shandong. Families of the Huayuan miners and Chinese media have raised questions about why Huayuan continued to operate when other mines in the area closed.

Li, however, said that mine operators may not have realized that the rains would be so heavy and that the river embankment would burst.

The Huayuan miners' families have gone six days without information on the miners, increasing the families' suspicions that mismanagement contributed to the disaster.

Efforts to drain the mine and reach the miners hit another snag Wednesday when a pipe broke, forcing the temporary shutdown of one of the main pumps, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

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