China coal mine explosion kills 46

BEIJING — An explosion in a central China colliery on Monday killed 46 coal miners, state media reported, in the latest deadly accident to strike the country’s notoriously dangerous mining sector.

The blast happened near Pingdingshan city in the central province of Henan when a store of gunpowder kept underground detonated, according to reports citing the State Administration of Work Safety.

The accident in the Xingdong No 2 Mine occurred at about 1:40 am (1740 GMT) with 72 miners working at the time, 26 of whom were brought to safety, China Central Television said.

The remaining 46 have been confirmed dead, it said.

Of the 26 rescued, six were hurt seriously including one miner who suffered burns to 78 percent of his body, the official China News Service said, adding that they were all in stable condition.

China’s vast coal mining industry is notoriously accident-prone, with lax regulation, corruption and inefficiency as mines rush to meet soaring demand. China relies on coal-generated power for about 70 of its electricity needs.

A total of 2,631 miners were killed in China last year, according to official figures, but independent labour groups say the actual figure could be much higher as many accidents are covered up to avoid costly mine shutdowns.

In March, a flood at the huge, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground. A total of 115 were recovered alive, in what was seen as a rare successful rescue for the industry.

Yet despite numerous pledges after that accident and other big mining disasters, there is virtually no let-up in the regular reports of deadly mishaps.

Just last September, Pingdingshan was the scene of a mine blast that killed 76 people. The accident prompted officials to call for a massive safety review of the city’s 157 mines, which were temporarily shut down.

Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, said in February that China would need at least 10 years to “fundamentally improve” safety and reduce the frequency of such disasters.

As part of its efforts to increase safety standards, the central government has levied heavy fines and implemented region-wide mining shut-downs following serious accidents.

But such actions have resulted in the under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit economic losses, labour rights groups maintain.

The March disaster in Shanxi province set off a new round of official pledges to make the industry safer, but since then several other accidents have been reported, leaving dozens of miners dead.

The issue of mining safety is sensitive in China, as the workers that toil in mines are largely poor migrants whose interests the ruling Communist Party has vowed to protect.

Following Monday’s accident, Zhao and Luo Lin, who is head of the state work safety bureau, travelled to the site in Henan to oversee rescue efforts personally, state media reports said.

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