A dawn explosion in a Chinese coal mine killed 20 and trapped 17 workers underground today in the country’s central region, a national work safety official said.
The blast came shortly after the world was riveted by Chile’s dramatic rescue of 33 trapped miners after they spent more than two months underground.
It was not yet clear how far underground the 17 workers were trapped at the state-owned mine, a spokesman with the state work safety administration said.
He had no details on the cause of the 6am blast in Henan province, a couple of hours outside the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, about 430 miles south of Beijing.
China Central Television originally reported that more than 30 people were trapped and 20 killed, but the spokesman said the earlier number of people reported trapped included the dead workers.
Today’s blast happened in a pit owned by Pingyu Coal & Electric Co. Ltd, the state-run Xinhua News Agency cited mine officials in Yuzhou city as saying.
China’s mining industry is the most dangerous in the world, and more than 2,600 people died in mining accidents last year.
The Chinese government has shut down more than 1,600 small, illegal coal mines this year as part of an effort to improve safety standards, the state-backed People’s Daily newspaper reported Thursday. However, an unknown number of illegal mines still exist to profit from the fast-growing economy’s huge appetite for power.
China had its own stunning mine rescue earlier this year, when 115 miners were pulled from a flooded mine in the northern province of Shanxi after more than a week underground. The miners survived by eating sawdust, tree bark, paper and even coal. Some strapped themselves to the walls of the shafts with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept.
Henan province was the scene of one of China’s deadliest mining disasters on record, a gas explosion in the Daping mine that killed 148 in October 2004.
At least 195 people were killed in mining accidents in Henan this year through the month of August, according to the provincial coal mine safety bureau.
China mining fatalities have decreased in recent years as the government closed many illegal mines, but deaths jumped again in the first half of this year.
China’s mines had 6,995 fatalities in 2002, the deadliest year on record.