A gas explosion tore through a coal mine in northern China on Saturday, killing 15 people and trapping another 114 nearly a third of a mile under ground, central government authorities said.
Another 399 people at the Xinxing mine in Heilongjiang province managed to escape after the 2:30 a.m. explosion, the State Administration of Work Safety said in a statement.
China Central Television reported that 15 were dead and the others were trapped about a third of a mile (500 meters) under ground. The report said the cause of the explosion was still not clear.
[…] The mine is run by one of China’s top 520 state-owned enterprises, according to the Web site of its owner, the Hegang branch of the Heilongjiang Longmei Holding Mining Group. The site says the Hegang branch has more than 88,000 employees.
Update: The explosion is reportedly due to gas buildup. More details and an updated death toll, from Associated Press:
A gas explosion tore through a coal mine in northern China on Saturday, killing 31 people and trapping 82 others nearly a third of a mile under ground, government authorities said.
A total of 528 people were working in the Xinxing mine in Heilongjiang province at the time of the 2:30 a.m. explosion, the State Administration of Work Safety said in a statement. It said 389 escaped after the blast.
Update 2: The toll has risen, via Maxim Duncan at Reuters:
A gas explosion killed 42 miners in a Chinese mine on Saturday and 66 remain trapped hundreds of metres (yards) underground after the latest accident to hit the world’s deadliest mining industry, state media said.
The blast ripped through the mine at about 2.30 a.m. when there were 528 people at work, but more than 400 have now got out safely, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing rescue team spokesman Zhang Jinguang.
The blast was so violent it shook the surrounding area. Buildings near the mine mouth have partially collapsed, and some survivors were knocked unconscious temporarily.
“I passed out for a while. I found I was shrouded by heavy smoke, when I regained consciousness. I groped my way out in the dark,” 27 year-old electrician Wang Xingang told Xinhua.
Keith Bradsher reports for the New York Times:
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang visited the site on Saturday afternoon to inspect the rescue effort, while President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao both “made instructions on the rescue work,” Xinhua said. Expressions of concern by top offiicials after mine disasters have become frequent in recent years, as deadly accidents have continued despite repeated efforts to improve safety.
[…] Official data shows that the number of coal mining deaths has been cut in half since 2002, to 3,210 last year, although some mine disasters continue to be covered up.
The explosion on Saturday was unusual in that it involved a large mine operated by one of China’s biggest state-owned companies, theHeilongjiang Longmei Holding Mining Group. Most of the deaths in Chinese mines occur in small, unlicensed operations that the national government has tried to shut down. But the authorities often meet resistance from mine owners, who find these operations profitable, and from local officials who want to create jobs and may have corrupt links to the mine owners.
Update 3: With the death toll at 87, this Heilongjiang mine explosion has become one of the most deadly in recent years. From AFP:
The death toll from a coal mine blast in northeast China rose to 87 on Sunday, with 21 miners still trapped, in the nation’s deadliest mining disaster in two years, state media reported.
Rescuers have located the site where eight workers remain trapped in the mine shaft, but it is unclear if they are alive, the China News Service reported.
The explosion occurred at 2:30 am Saturday (1830 GMT Friday) at a mine near Hegang City in Heilongjiang province, according to a statement issued by the State Administration of Work Safety.