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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 11:09 GMT
Hopes fade for China mine missing
A trapped miner of Dongfeng Coal Mine is carried out by his fellow workers
Rescuers worked for many hours trying to recover their colleagues
Rescuers are losing hope of finding more survivors at a Chinese coal mine hit by an underground blast on Sunday.

The death toll at the Dongfeng mine in Heilongjiang province reached 146 on Tuesday, as more bodies were found.

Only three miners are still missing, but officials said the chances of finding anyone alive were almost nil.

Relatives of the victims gathered outside the mine's gates - despite temperatures of -15C on Monday night - demanding to be let in.

Authorities say the blast occurred when coal dust caught fire, knocking out the colliery's ventilation systems.

China's mines are considered the world's deadliest and this year alone, 3,000 deaths have been reported.

'Management to blame'

Officials at the mine, near Qitaihe city in north-eastern China, blocked the path of about a dozen people at the gates, including four women who demanded loudly that they be let in to look for relatives.

"It's all the management's fault," said a woman named Ge to the AFP news agency, as she waited for information about her nephew and brother-in-law.

"They knew all along that there were safety problems but they wouldn't do anything about it."

There were said to be 221 miners underground when the blast took place.

Some 72 had been rescued alive, 38 of whom were being treated in hospital, said the official Xinhua news agency.

An engineer at the mine, Song Kaicheng, was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying the chances of finding more survivors was very low because of the levels of toxic gas in the mine.

Unsafe mines 'ignored'

The explosion was reported at about 2100 local time (1300 GMT) on Sunday, the provincial coal mine safety administration told Xinhua.

The mine is run by Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Group, a state-owned conglomerate.

The China Daily newspaper says that following a drive to increase safety, 9,000 illegal coalmines have been closed down since September and almost 13,000 dangerous ones suspended.

But the paper admitted that the central government's attempts to improve safety were being compromised by local authorities ignoring unsafe mines because they make money.

"We suggest that an accountability mechanism be established immediately for provincial and county inspectors who conduct safety checks at suspended coal mines. Inspectors should be held directly responsible for any accidents that take place due to poor safety in coal mines he or she has approved," the paper says.

More than 130,000 people died in industrial accidents in China last year.

Why miners are risking their lives in China

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