China mine accident leaves 20 dead, 17 missing: gov't

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A China coal mine accident killed 20 miners and left another 17 missing underground Saturday, the government said, in the latest tragedy highlighting appalling safety conditions in the nation's mines.

The mine in the central province of Henan was hit by a "sudden coal and gas outburst" as 276 miners were at work below ground, the national work safety agency said on its website.

A total of 239 miners made it to the surface following the accident in the city of Yuzhou, but 20 others have been found dead and 17 were missing, it said.

Rescuers were continuing to try to reach the missing miners.

Chinese mines are notoriously dangerous due to the widespread flouting of safety rules, typically blamed on corrupt mine operators trying to keep costs down, with coal mining particularly accident-prone.

China's poor safety record has come under fresh scrutiny after the successful rescue of 33 miners trapped underground in Chile for more than two months gripped the world, sparking comparisons with China's litany of deadly disasters.

Last year 2,631 Chinese miners were killed, according to official statistics, but independent labor groups say the true figure is likely to be much higher as many accidents are believed to be covered up.

The government has repeatedly vowed to shut dangerous mines and strengthen safety but the accidents continue with regularity as mines hustle to pump out the coal on which China relies for about 70 percent of its energy.

The Henan mine was jointly owned by China Power Investment Corp. a major state-owned power producer and another firm, Xinhua news agency said.

In July, Premier Wen Jiabao lamented China's "serious" work safety situation, ordering mining bosses to work side-by-side with workers in the pits to ensure that companies more closely observe safety rules.

The government said Friday it would carry out a nationwide 10-day inspection in late October to determine whether mine operators were following the order.

Internet chatrooms a rare platform for relatively open debate in Communist-controlled China slammed the country's safety record after the Chilean rescues.

Some state media editorials said China should learn from the better training and safety systems of the Chilean miners. Many Chinese miners are ill-trained migrant workers toiling in pits where even basic safety is ignored.

China had its own "miracle" mine rescue in April when 115 miners were rescued after more than a week trapped underground in a flooded mine shaft in the northern province of Shanxi.

Some of them survived by eating tree bark, sawdust and even coal. One survivor said he strapped himself to the shaft wall at night as he feared drowning in his sleep.

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