Blast in China coal mine kills 74

BEIJING (Reuters) - An explosion in a mine belonging to China’s biggest coking coal producer killed 74 miners in Shanxi province on Sunday and scores more were rescued after being trapped underground for hours.

Xinhua news agency said 436 miners were working underground when the accident occurred at the Tunlan mine near Taiyuan, the capital of the northern province.

Many of the survivors were quickly brought to the surface but at least 60 were trapped underground. Rescuers said some of the trapped miners managed to contact their families on their mobile phones.

Xinhua said 114 miners were in hospital and five were in a critical condition.

“The focus of our effort has shifted from searching and rescue to medical treatment,” Xinhua quoted the provincial Communist Party committee chief Zhang Baoshun as saying.

The gas blast happened the day after senior provincial officials held a conference about mine safety when they pledged to try to put an end to fatal mining accidents.

The mine produces coking coal for the steel industry and can produce 5 million tonnes a year, Xinhua said.

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It is owned by Shanxi Coking Coal Group which is the parent of Shenzhen-listed Shanxi Xishan Coal and Electricity Power and Shanghai-listed Shanxi Coking Co.

China’s mining industry is the world’s most dangerous although Xinhua said the Tunlan mine had a good reputation because no accidents had occurred there in the past decade.

A total of 3,786 coal miners died in gas blasts, floodings and other accidents in 2007 as companies, often flouting safety regulations, rushed to feed demand from a booming economy.

The number of deaths fell to 2,690 in the first 10 months of 2008 after thousands of small, unsafe mines were closed.

Many small mines are struggling to remain open because demand from the electricity and steel sectors, their main customers, has slumped in recent months.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Robert Woodward