BEIJING – A coal mine blast in northern China killed at least 74 workers in the third such disaster in the perilous industry in recent weeks, the government said Thursday.
The explosion Wednesday at the privately run Liuguantun Colliery in Tangshan, a city in Hebei province, occurred when 188 miners were underground, the official Xinhua News Agency said. An initial investigation showed that a mixture of airborne coal dust and a gas ignited and caused the blast, the report said.
The bodies of 71 miners had been recovered from the mine by early Thursday and three miners who had were rescued later died, bringing the toll to 74, Xinhua said.
China's mine are the world's deadliest, with accidents reported on a near-daily basis despite repeated government safety crackdowns and pledges to improve conditions.
China churns out about 2 billion tons of coal a year, making it the world's largest coal producer, followed by the United States, which produces about 1 billion tons a year. But China's mines are far deadlier.
Last year, more than 6,000 miners were killed in fires, floods, cave-ins and explosions, making China's industry the world's deadliest. In comparison, the national Mine Safety and Health Administration reported 28 killed last year in U.S. mines.
Corruption, lax safety rules and poor equipment are often blamed for the accidents. China's government has shut down thousands of unsafe mines and punished mine owners who put profits ahead of lives. Punishments are often meted out to local mine or government officials, many who try to escape the scene.
But the country's enormous need for energy to fuel its booming economy has complicated the issue.
The worst Chinese mine disaster in recent years occurred in February in northeastern Liaoning province, when an explosion killed 214 miners.
On Tuesday, rescuers recovered the body of the last miner missing in a Nov. 27 blast at the Dongfeng Coal Mine in China's northeastern Heilongjiang province, bringing the number of fatalities in that blast to 171.
The accident prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to declare over the weekend that the industry was "chaotic and without safety enforcement in place," according to Li Yizhong, the director of China's State Administration of Work Safety.