21 still trapped after big mine explosion in China

HARBIN, China — Rescuers working in frigid cold and darkness tried to reach 66 people believed trapped a third of a mile underground after a huge gas explosion Saturday ripped through a coal mine in northern China, killing at least 87 people.

The predawn blast at the state-run Xinxing mine in Heilongjiang province near the border with Russia is the latest to hit China's mining industry, the world's deadliest. Authorities say safety is improving, but hundreds still die in major accidents each year.

Large state-owned coal mines, such as Xinxing, are generally considered safer than smaller, private ones that account for the bulk of production. The blast underscores the difficulties the government faces in trying to boost safety while maintaining output. Coal is vital to the vast population and booming economy, as China uses it to generate about three-quarters of its electricity.

Television footage showed smoke billowing out of the mine after the explosion went off, caused by a gas buildup. It caused a nearby building to collapse.

Some 528 miners were underground at the time. The State Administration of Work Safety said 389 of them managed to escape.

Of the rest, 31 miners were rescued, including six now in serious condition in a hospital, China Central Television reported. Some 87 bodies have been recovered and rescuers were searching for 21 others still believed trapped in the mine.

CCTV displayed a diagram showing the miners trapped about a third of a mile underground. Video showed that one entrance to the mine was blocked. Rescuers in orange suits and with breathing equipment were attempting to enter the mine through another entrance.

The massive blast cut power in the mine, as well as ventilation and communication links, hampering the efforts of the more than 300 rescue workers.

Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang visited some of miners recovering in hospital Saturday afternoon.