The death toll in China’s worst mine accident in nearly three years rose to 41 today, with five others still trapped underground.
State media said one person had been pulled out alive, more than 36 hours after the explosion at the Xiaojiawan coal mine in coal-rich Panzhihua city in the south-western province of Sichuan.
Police detained the mine owners, and the Sichuan government launched a province-wide safety check on all coal mines and pledged to shut down those with safety hazards.
There were 154 miners working at the mine when the blast happened, and 108 survivors have been brought to the surface.
It was China’s deadliest mine accident since November 2009 when 108 people were killed in an explosion in a mine in Heilongjiang province.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the rescue work was dangerous because of high temperatures in the mine and dense carbon monoxide which meant only mask-wearing paramedics were able to enter the shaft.
Xinhua quoted one miner, Xu Changyong, as saying he heard the explosion and then ash started coming out of his air compressor before he scrambled out of the mine.
Of the miners who made it to the surface, 50 are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and seven are in a critical condition, Xinhua said.
The mine is owned by Zhengjin Industry and Trade and the owners are in police custody for investigation, the Panzhihua city government said in a statement posted on its official microblogging site.
Coal mine accidents are common in China, where work safety rules are often ignored. Last year, 1,973 miners were killed in coal mine accidents in the country, but that was down 19% from the previous year as authorities continue to beef up safety measures.
The State Administration of Work Safety said last week that it planned to close more than 600 small coal mines – considered more dangerous than larger mines - this year to further reduce fatalities.