73 miners die, 113 injured in China mine blast

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The Independent Online

A gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in northern China on Sunday, killing at least 73 miners and trapping dozens in the still-burning shaft, state media said.

China's mines are the world's most dangerous with more than 3,000 deaths a year in fires, floods and explosions.

The pre-dawn blast occurred while 436 workers were in the Tunlan Coal Mine in Gujiao city near Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

At least 73 miners died and 113 were hospitalized, including 21 in critical condition, Xinhua said. It did not say how many workers remained trapped in the shaft but earlier reports said at least 65 were still underground.

State television CCTV showed rescuers in orange suits and red helmets with headlamps entering an elevator to be lowered into the mine shaft, while others emerged from the mine carrying workers on stretchers toward waiting ambulances.

Nearly 100 rescuers were onsite but their work was hampered by flames still burning in the shaft, CCTV said.

The injured miners were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, Xinhua reported, citing doctors at a nearby hospital. Exposure to carbon monoxide, an odourless, colourless gas, can lead to death.

The mine is owned by 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.

No accidents have been reported at the Tunlan mine in the past decade, Xinhua said. The mine produces 5 million tons of coking coal a year.

Although China has worked to cut mine accidents by closing more than 1,000 dangerous small mines last year, the country's mining industry is still the world's deadliest. About 3,200 people died in coal mine accidents last year, a 15 percent decline from the previous year.

While China's safety record is abysmal, the numbers mask great disparities. Large, state-run mines tend to have safety records nearing those of developed countries while smaller mines have little or no safety equipment and weak worker training.

Government figures show that almost 80 percent of China's 16,000 mines are small, illegal operations.

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