Rescuers search for 32 miners missing after coal mine blast in China

Rescuers searched Friday for 32 miners missing after a massive methane gas explosion at a coal mine in northern China killed dozens, an official said, while state media slammed the industry for not doing more to stop such preventable accidents. The bodies of 74 workers killed in the blast had been recovered from the Liuguantun Colliery by late Thursday, according to an official with local Tangshan Coal Mine Safety Bureau who would only give his surname Liu. Tangshan city is in Hebei province about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Beijing. "The death toll is the same as yesterday, we haven't had any news, and there are still 32 missing," said Liu. A mixture of airborne coal dust and colorless, methane-laden gas known as fire damp ignited to cause the blast on Wednesday, an initial investigation showed.

"Coal companies in developed countries long ago introduced technology to draw out methane before letting miners get down to work in shafts," the China Daily newspaper reported in an editorial. "We should not sit idle. ... Some accidents involving this gas could be avoided."

The editorial said that it was not uncommon in Chinese mines for managers to ignore the presence of methane gas or "even to cover sensors that are designed to detect it." It said stricter regulations and supervision was needed.

Rescue efforts on Thursday ground almost to a halt when carbon monoxide levels nearly 100 times the acceptable standard were found, posing the threat of another explosion or poisoning, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The mine's owners promised to compensate each of the victims' families with at least 200,000 yuan (US$25,000; Ђ21,000), although the mine's owners and managers were in police custody and their bank accounts had been frozen, Xinhua said without giving more details. China's mines are by far the world's deadliest with more than 6,000 killed in floods, fires, explosions and other accidents last year. Corruption, lax safety rules and poor equipment are among factors blamed for accidents in China. The government has shut down thousands of unsafe mines and punished mine owners. But China's immense need for energy, stemming from breakneck development, has complicated the issue.

Rescuers at the Sigou mine in central Henan province were still trying to save 42 miners trapped underground after the shaft flooded last Friday, Xinhua said late Thursday.

At another flooded mine in Changchun, the capital of the northeastern province of Jilin, the search continued for six miners trapped on Thursday, Xinhua said. Seven were underground when the flood occurred and one slightly injured miner was rescued, it said, reports the AP. I.L.

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