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74 dead, 114 in hospital after blast hits coal mine in Shanxi

A POWERFUL blast ripped through a coal mine in north China's Shanxi Province yesterday, killing at least 74 men and leaving 114 injured.

The accident happened at 2:17am when 436 miners were working underground at the Tunlan Coal Mine in Gujiao City, about 50 kilometers from Taiyuan, the provincial capital.

As of 6pm yesterday, the rescue work was wrapped up as all miners in the underground shaft had been found, the rescue headquarters announced.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Xue Huancheng, 27, said yesterday: "We didn't feel anything unusual before the accident this morning."

The Shanxi native said when the blast happened they just felt choked. At about 3:30am, someone outside the shaft told them "the ventilation system broke down" and ordered the miners to get out.

"At that time the power supply underground was cut off and we had to walk," Xue said.

After about 40 or 50 minutes, he switched on his personal oxygen tank, but fainted when he was about to reach the exit. He woke up in hospital at 5:30am.

"I still felt dizzy and doctors brought me oxygen bottles. They measured my body temperature, blood pressure and recorded the electrocardiogram for me," he said, adding that he felt better by noon.

Most of the miners suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, according to doctors in the Xishan Hospital of Coal and Electricity in Gujiao, one of the nearest hospitals to the mine.

All of the 68 hyperbaric oxygenic chambers in hospitals in Taiyuan were in operation to admit injured miners.

Rescue headquarters did not specify how many bodies were found in the mine shaft, only saying that the fatalities included bodies found by rescuers in the mine and workers who died in hospital.

Rescuers said that of 114 miners in hospital, five were in a critical condition.

"The focus of our effort has shifted from search and rescue to medical treatment," Zhang Baoshun, the chief of the provincial Communist Party committee, said. Zhang led the rescue work at the accident site.

One rescuer said some relatives of the trapped miners had received cell phone calls from their loved ones in the mine, telling them they were still alive.

More than 40 ambulances had been called to the accident site to offer first aid.

Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, and Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Bureau of Coal Industry and director of the national agency for coal mine work safety, arrived at the mine yesterday afternoon.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday that no effort should be spared in the bid to rescue miners trapped or injured and ensure the safety of rescuers.

The mine is owned by the Shanxi Coking Coal Group, one of China's largest producers of coking coal, which is used in the production of steel. The company operates 28 mines.

The Tunlan Coal Mine, with an annual production capacity of 5 million tons, is said to be one of the best mining facilities in China.

The mine has had no major accidents for the past five years.

The central government has set up a team to investigate the cause of the accident.

China's mining industry is the world's most dangerous.

A total of 3,786 coal miners died in gas blasts, floodings and other accidents in 2007.

The number of deaths fell to 2,690 in the first 10 months of 2008 after thousands of small unsafe mines across the country were closed.


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