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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 04:22 GMT
No more survivors in China blast
A woman breaks down after she was told the fate of her husband, one of the miners trapped in the Chenjiashan coal mine in Tongchuan city
It was an agonising wait for friends and relatives
All 166 miners missing after a gas explosion in central China on Sunday have been confirmed dead, according to Chinese state media.

The number of casualties makes the disaster the worst of its kind in China in at least 10 years.

The spokesman quoted in the media reports did not say whether the bodies of all of the dead had been recovered.

Earlier reports said the mine may have been kept open despite safety fears, following a fire a week ago.

The official China Youth Daily revealed that some miners had refused to go back to work following fire in the same mine a week ago.

But officials at the state-owned mine - under pressure to maintain production - threatened to punish absentees, the paper reported.

A BBC correspondent in Beijing, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, says the scale of this disaster has seen China's normally tightly-controlled state media call for reform.

"What is the price of a life, or a dozen, a score - 100?" the China Daily said. Compare these awful figures with the misery they bring, and heavy investment is worthy," it said.

Inspections order

Nearly 300 miners were working when the blast happened early on Sunday, nearly 8km (5 miles) into one of China's largest state-owned mines.

23 Feb: 32 die at Baixing mine, Heilongjiang province
3 June: Fourteen die in Hebei province blast. Chinese media say 16 officials are being prosecuted for a cover-up
20 Oct: Gas explosion at Daping mine, Henan province kills 148 - believed the deadliest accident in four years
20 Nov: Fire at iron ore mine in Hebei province kills 68

Of the 127 who escaped 45 were injured, state media said.

Many were taken to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning. Eleven are said to be in a serious condition, Xinhua reported.

The accident happened just two days after the Shaanxi provincial government issued an order stepping up mine inspections and ordered mines with substandard ventilation systems to close.

An explosion at the same mine three years ago killed 38 miners.

Black record

China has a dismal mine safety record. Last month 148 people died in a blast in Henan province, and a fire at a mine in Hebei province claimed 68 lives last week.

Official figures show that 4,153 people died in mining accidents in China in the first three quarters of this year - a figure 13% lower than last year. The total may be much higher, since many deaths go unreported.

Energy shortages mean the price of coal has gone up, leading unscrupulous mine operators to cut corners to increase production or re-open mines which had been shut down because of poor safety standards.

Our correspondent says that the problem is compounded by inherent inefficiency in the industry.

Digging by hand, a Chinese miner can produce one ton of coal every day, compared to 40 tons in the United States, which is why mines like Chenjiashan employ thousands of men below ground, and why so many die when something goes wrong.

Watch video from the scene of the blast

Los Angeles TimesChina Mine Blast Death Toll Hits 166 - 1 hr ago
Washington PostDeath Toll Rises from China Mine Explosion - 2 hrs ago
Herald Tribune Toll in China Mine Explosion Reaches 166 - 4 hrs ago
Xinhua News Agency Pain and despair among workers' families at explosion coal mine - 4 hrs ago
Sky News Mine Death Toll Worst In Chinese History - 5 hrs ago
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28 Nov 04 |  Asia-Pacific
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