Gas explosion in Chinese mine kills 203

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More than 200 miners died when a gas explosion tore through a mine in China 10 minutes after an eathquake, the government said today.

The explosion yesterday afternoon at the Sunjiawan mine in Liaoning province also injured 22 others and trapped 13 people underground, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The cause of the blast, which occurred nearly 800ft underground, is under investigation, but it occurred about 10 minutes after an earthquake.

President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders issued orders for local officials "to spare no effort to rescue those stranded in the mine," Xinhua said.

A government work team headed by a member of China's Cabinet arrived at Sunjiawan to help find the missing, treat the injured and prepare compensation for the families of the victims, Xinhua said.

China has suffered a string of deadly mining disasters in recent months despite a nationwide safety campaign.

A blast in the northern province of Shaanxi in November killed 166 miners. Another explosion in October killed 148. Before that, the deadliest reported mining accident in recent years was a fire in southern China that killed 162 miners in 2000.

Monday's disaster was the deadliest reported by the Chinese government since the 1949 communist revolution. However, until the late 1990s, when the government began regularly announcing statistics on mining deaths, many industrial accidents were never disclosed. In 1942, China's northeast was the site of the world's deadliest coal mining disaster when an accident killed 1,549 miners in Japanese-occupied Manchuria.

China's mines are by far the world's deadliest, with more than 6,000 deaths last year in mine floods, explosions and fires.

The government said the toll was eight per cent below the number killed the previous year. But the government says China's fatality rate per ton of coal mined is still 100 times that of the United States.

China says it accounted for 80 per cent of all coal mining deaths worldwide last year. Mine owners and local officials are frequently blamed for putting profits ahead of safety, especially as the nation's soaring energy needs increase demand for coal.

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