China: coal mine blast kills 54, with 22 missing

A coal mine blast in northern China left at least 54 workers dead and another 22 missing, the government said Thursday. It was the third massive coal mine disaster to hit China's disaster-plagued industry in recent weeks.

The explosion occurred Wednesday at the privately run Liuguantun Colliery in Tangshan, a city in Hebei province, when 186 miners were underground, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Thirty-one miners were immediately rescued but three later died. The bodies of 51 miners had been recovered from the mine by early Thursday, bringing the death toll to 54, it said.

Rescuers were searching for 22 still trapped in the mine, Xinhua said. An initial report from Xinhua Wednesday said 123 miners were underground when the blast occurred.

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, and Zhao Tiechui, director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, departed Beijing for the site late Wednesday, Xinhua said.

The government has shut down thousands of unsafe mines and punished mine owners who put profits ahead of lives. But China's enormous need for energy, stemming from its booming economy, has complicated the issue.

Mine accidents are reported on a near-daily basis, some involving huge death tolls. The worst in recent years occurred in February in northeastern Liaoning province, when an explosion killed 214 minersreported AP. P.T.

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