Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Saturday, 21 November 2009

Deadly mine blast traps dozens in north-eastern China


Smoke rises at the site of the deadly mine blast

A gas blast at a coal mine in China has killed 42 people and left 66 trapped, state media reports.

Xinhua said that 528 workers were in the mine in Heilongjiang province at the time of the blast and that rescuers were searching for those trapped.

More than 400 other miners reportedly managed to escape the mine, in the region bordering Russia.

China's coal mines are notoriously dangerous despite tighter government regulations aimed at upgrading safety.

Last year alone, more than 3,000 people were killed in mining accidents.

The latest blast happened at 0230 local time on Saturday (1830 GMT on Friday), said Xinhua.

Deep underground

Most of the workers managed to escape the pit, but many were still trapped about a third of a mile (500m) underground, Chinese media report.

Screen grab of Chinese TV footage showing the mine in Heilongjiang province
China's coal mines are notoriously dangerous despite regulations

Many of the injured were being treated at the Hegang Mining Bureau Hospital, which said all 800 of its medical workers had joined the rescue operation, Xinhua reported.

Wang Xingang, a 27-year-old electrician who suffered head injuries, said he was knocked out by the blast as he was entering the mine.

"I passed out for a while," Xinhua quoted him as saying. "I found I was shrouded by heavy smoke when I regained consciousness. I groped my way out in the dark, and called for help."

The mine is operated by the state-owned Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Holding Group.

State-run mines are generally considered safer than private collieries, whose lax safety standards contributed to a high rate of accidents.

Most are blamed on a failure to follow safety guidelines, often in an attempt to cut costs and meet an increasing demand for fuel.

The Chinese authorities have been trying to deal with the dangers by closing smaller mining operations and forcing local authorities to regulate the industry, says the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing.

The government closed some 1,000 small mines in a recent safety drive, and says the number of miners killed has been halved as a result.

But miners are still dying at a rate of six a day, and independent labour groups say many accidents are covered up in the drive for profit and coal.

In February, more than 70 workers were killed in an explosion at a mine in Shanxi province.

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