Death toll rises in Chinese coal mine disaster

The death toll from an explosion at a coal mine in north-eastern China rose to at least 146 on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency said.Three miners were still listed as missing, nearly two days after the Sunday-night cave-in at the state-run Dongfeng coal mine, near Qitaihe city in Heilongjiang province, not far from the Russian border.

A total of 221 miners were underground when the cave-in occurred at about 9.40pm local time on Sunday Investigators said the accident was caused by a coal-dust explosion, which knocked out all the ventilation systems in the pit, according to Xinhua news agency.

Video on China Central Television (CCTV) showed gaping holes in numerous places at the mine site where explosions had ripped through the earth.

"It's all the management's fault," a woman surnamed Ge, whose nephew and brother-in-law were among the missing, said outside the gates of the mine. "They knew all along that there were safety problems, but they wouldn't do anything about it."

Seventy-two miners have been rescued, Xinhua said, quoting Zhang Chengxiang, director of the provincial coal-safety bureau.

The central government's safety watchdog, the State Administration for Work Safety, had a lower death toll on Tuesday evening of 140.

However, it said the figure included two workers killed outside the mine, and that there were 11 still missing underground, meaning the final tally could be 151.

"The latest death toll is 140, including two who were killed in a building on the ground when the explosion caused the building collapse," the administration's spokesperson, An Yuanjie, said. "There are still 11 miners missing and 72 have survived, reports AFP. I.L.

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