QITAIHE, China (AP) – The death toll in a massive coal mine explosion in northeast China rose to 134 late Monday and 15 miners were still missing, state media reported as the country’s leadership called for tighter work safety measures.
Coal dust caught fire at the mine in the city of Qitaihe on Sunday while 221 miners were working underground, the official Xinhua News Agency said. More than 70 miners were rescued, it said.
Outside the mine late Monday, distraught family members sought answers. A stream of emergency vehicles with flashing lights traveled back and forth on the narrow road leading to the mine.
China’s coal mines are the deadliest in the world. Fires, floods, cave-ins and explosions are reported almost daily, and thousands of miners are killed every year despite the government’s repeated vows to do more to stop the carnage.
Efforts to shut down dangerous mines have been complicated by the country’s soaring demands for power to drive its booming economy.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao urged officials to curb the “possible occurrence of big safety accidents which claim huge casualties and property losses,” the state-run newspaper China Daily said Monday.
The leaders called for enforcement of stricter inspections and punishments, it said.
Underscoring the dangers, 18 miners missing since another coal mine disaster last week in north China’s Hebei province were confirmed dead Monday, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The mine’s owners fled after it flooded Thursday, complicating search efforts, the agency said.
A 269-member rescue team was searching for the miners still trapped in the Qitaihe mine, and Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, told them to “spare no efforts” to save the workers, Xinhua said.
State television showed rescuers escorting a survivor from the mine, his face and clothes covered in soot.
The explosion knocked out all ventilation systems, Xinhua said, but they were working again Monday.
The mine is owned by the Heilongjiang Longmei Mining Group Co., a conglomerate of four state-owned coal businesses in the province, Xinhua said.