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November 22, 2009

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42 miners die in blast, 66 trapped

A GAS explosion tore through a state-run coal mine in northern China yesterday, killing at least 42 people and leaving 66 others trapped underground with rescuers working frantically to save them.

The gas blast in Xinxing Coal Mine, owned by Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group, in Hegang City, occurred 500 meters underground.

Rescuers were still searching for the missing late last night, said Zhang Jinguang, a spokesman for the rescue headquarters.

The mining company has confirmed that 528 miners were working underground when the explosion occurred at 2:30am yesterday. Among them, 420 escaped.

China Central Television said the explosion was caused by a gas buildup. Its footage showed smoke billowing out of the mine, with a collapsed building nearby.

The report said power, ventilation and communication links in the mine were cut by the explosion, hampering rescue efforts.

Pan Xiaowen, deputy director of Hegang Mining Bureau Hospital, said it had admitted 29 injured miners from the accident.

"Six of them were seriously injured," he said, adding all the hospital's 800 medical workers joined rescue efforts.

Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang visited the hospital yesterday afternoon and urged medical workers to do their utmost to save the injured miners.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have also been closely monitoring the rescue work.

Wang Xingang, a 27-year-old electrician, said from his hospital bed that he was blown out by a strong blast when he was entering the mine.

"I passed out for a while. I was shrouded by heavy smoke when I regained consciousness. I groped my way out in the dark and called for help," he said.

The mine is located over 400 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Harbin.

The Hegang subsidiary of Longmei is a state-owned mining company with an annual coal output of 12 million tonnes. Its mining area has a verified coal reserve of 3 billion tonnes and it has more than 88,000 employees.

China depends heavily on coal to generate about three-quarters of its electricity needs.

The government has been cracking down on unregulated mining operations which account for almost 80 percent of the country's 16,000 mines.

The closure of about 1,000 dangerous small mines last year helped to halve the average number of miners killed to about six a day in the first six months of this year, the government has said.

Major gas explosions in coal mines remain a problem, though the number of accidents and deaths have gradually declined year by year, the chief of the State Administration of Work Safety, Luo Lin, told a national conference in September.

In the first nine months of this year, China's coal mines had 11 major accidents with 303 deaths, with gas explosions the leading cause, according to the central government.

Most accidents are blamed on failure to follow safety rules, including a lack of required ventilation or fire control equipment.


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