Explosion hits NZ mine; 30 workers unaccounted for

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An explosion ripped through a coal mine in New Zealand on Friday and around 30 workers were unaccounted for, police and media reports said.

Emergency services were racing to the Pike River Coal Processing Plant near the town of Atarau on the west coast after police received reports of an explosion, police said in a statement.

Local Mayor Tony Kokshoorn told New Zealand's National Radio that around 30 people at the mine were unaccounted for.

"It's not good news at all," Kokshoorn said. "We don't know at what depth the explosion is but there's certainly a big explosion. With a bit of luck, things might be OK. But there's 25 to 30 miners unaccounted for."

St. John Ambulance service said two rescue helicopters and 10 ambulances were heading for the mine.

The mine's management said up to 35 workers were underground when the explosion occurred, and that "two miners had come to the surface and spoken with them, saying that they had lost communication with the other miners," local media reported.

The mine reaches some 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) underground and produces high grade coal for export that is used primarily in steel production.

Pike River has been operating since 2008, mining a seam that holds the largest-known deposit of hard coking coal in New Zealand, with 58.5 million tons of coal in-ground, according to its website.

Pike River says its coal preparation plant at the site is the largest and most modern in New Zealand and processes up to 1.5 million tons a year of raw coal.

The mine is not far from the site of one of New Zealand's worst mining disasters — an underground explosion in the state-owned Strongman Mine on Jan. 19, 1967, that killed 19 workers.