November 22, 2009 in Nation/World

China coal mine blast’s death toll jumps to 87

Cara Anna Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Smoke rises from the entrance of the coal mine in Hegang in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province on Saturday evening.
(Full-size photo)

HEGANG, China – Rescuers worked in frigid cold to reach 21 miners trapped underground today as the death toll from a huge gas explosion in a northern Chinese mine jumped to 87 – the deadliest blast to hit the beleaguered industry in nearly two years.

The pre-dawn blast Saturday at the state-run Xinxing mine in Heilongjiang province near the border with Russia was the latest to hit China’s mining industry – the world’s deadliest.

The death toll more than doubled overnight, reported the official Xinhua News Agency.

Ventilation and power were restored in the mine, said an employee at the company. The mine’s director, deputy director and chief engineer were fired Saturday, he said.

A total of 528 people were working in the Xinxing mine at the time of the 2:30 a.m. explosion Saturday. Xinhua reported 420 escaped.

Saturday’s blast underscores the difficulties the government faces in trying to boost safety while maintaining output.

The government has cracked down on unregulated mining operations, which account for almost 80 percent of the country’s 16,000 mines. It says the closure of about 1,000 dangerous small mines last year has helped it cut fatalities.

Yet major accidents persist. In the first nine months of this year, China’s coal mines had 11 such incidents with 303 deaths. Gas explosions were the leading cause.

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