Blast traps 162 as death toll soars in China's coal mines

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The Independent Online

A massive gas explosion left up to 162 coal miners trapped underground in Shaanxi province in central China yesterday, in one of the worst mining disasters in four years.

A massive gas explosion left up to 162 coal miners trapped underground in Shaanxi province in central China yesterday, in one of the worst mining disasters in four years.

A total of 293 miners were in the Chenjiashan pit in Tongchuan city. At least 127 miners, many working near the surface, escaped or were rescued soon after the blast and four more were hauled out alive 10 hours later. Forty-one workers are in hospital, five with serious injuries. Some of the miners suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.

The explosion was centred on shafts 8km from the mouth of the mine. Witnesses saw "huge amounts of thick smoke from the mine's ventilation vents", hampering rescue efforts. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the cause of the explosion would be thoroughly investigated and the government would continue to push for safer conditions.

Just weeks ago, an explosion in central Henan province killed 148 workers, after mine operators failed to realise that extending the shaft would greatly increase the gas level.

Despite Government promises to ensure better safety in mines, China's are the world's most dangerous, with 4,153 deaths so far this year alone, caused by explosions, fires, cave-ins and flooding often blamed on lax safety rules and lack of equipment.

Yesterday, 16 people in Hebei province were charged over a pit blast in June that killed 14 miners and hurt 23 others. The mine owner and other officials failed to search for trapped miners and secretly cremated five bodies so the toll would not look so high, the Xinhua news agency said.

The owner feared the pit would be closed as dangerous and he would lose money.

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