Nine dead, five missing in China coal mine blast

BEIJING, March 28 (Reuters) - Nine miners were killed and another five were missing after an explosion in an illegally operating Chinese coal mine brought down an estimated 100 tonnes of coal, the official Xinhua agency said.

The accident at the Zhangjiazhou mine in central Hunan province happened on Wednesday evening when 17 people were working underground. Three managed to escape, and rescuers in four teams were hunting round the clock for other survivors.

The mine’s operating permit expired last year and it was not using gas monitoring equipment because it had broken down before the accident, Xinhua quoted a local work safety official as saying in its report late on Thursday.

A pit collapse the same day in central Henan province killed one and trapped five miners, Xinhua said.

China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, has the world’s deadliest mining industry.

It has been battling to improve standards in its mines, but accidents are common as owners push production beyond safety limits to meet robust demand to fuel the country’s economic boom.

The number of deaths from accidents at Chinese coal mines dropped one-fifth in 2007 from the previous year, although 3,786 people still lost their lives. That was a big improvement over 2005, when the death toll was nearer to 6,000. (Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani)