A gas explosion at a Chinese coal pit has killed at least 74 miners, state media said on Thursday, the latest in a grimly predictable series of statistics to emerge from the worlds deadliest mining industry.

A gas explosion at a Chinese coal pit has killed at least 74 miners, state media said on Thursday, the latest in a grimly predictable series of statistics to emerge from the world’s deadliest mining industry.

Thirty-two were still missing in freezing temperatures at the Liuguantun colliery in Tangshan, 180 km east of Beijing in Hebei province, after Wednesday’s blast.

Xinhua news agency said initially that 186 miners had been working in the pit at the time but later revised the figure to 106. The State Administration of Work Safety put the number in the pit at 123.

Police struggled to hold back hundreds of relatives crowding around the mine’s entrance hoping for information. But with high gas levels inside the shaft, rescue efforts were going slowly.

Families of the dead would each be compensated 200,000 yuan ($ 24,770), state television said.

China has been struggling to clean up its mining industry, which killed 2,700 people in the first half of 2005 alone, but a string of accidents in recent weeks has made a mockery of safety campaigns.

An explosion in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in late November killed 171 miners.

Flooding at another Hebei mine days earlier trapped 18 underground. Three managers fled the scene, leaving rescuers with no guide to the underground warren.

Last week, 42 miners were trapped by flooding at a mine in the central province of Henan. Three mine officials fled that accident, but were later caught by police. The mine had been operating without a safety permit.

The China Daily newspaper said that it was unlikely any of the trapped men had survived.

The Liuguantun mine was originally a state-owned mine run by the local government with an annual production capacity of 300,000 tonnes. In 2002 it went into private ownership and its production capacity was halved, Xinhua said.

The Work Safety Administration said Liuguantun was classified as a low-gas mine, but Xinhua said investigators had confirmed a gas explosion as the cause of the accident.

The government has been trying to close small mines to consolidate the industry, demanded officials sever financial links with mines and called for managers to head underground with miners on each shift to check safety standards.

But booming demand and high coal prices mean regulations are often ignored, production is pushed beyond safe limits and closed mines reopen illegally.

Source : in.today.reuters.com