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Rescuers have recovered the bodies of five miners and are still trying to reach another 17 trapped underground after a gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in Northeast China's Liaoning province at noon on Thursday.
According to police, the owner of the private mine, Yu Guifang, who by law is legally accountable for any accidents, fled and was caught by Friday noon. The cause of the blast is under investigation.
According to Fu Jianhua, director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, the mine has a license to operate, but was operating without a permit from the local government. The local authority ordered it to stop operations in early January, but it continued operating illegally until the accident.
The Liaoning Administration of Coal Mine Safety has required all the coal mines in the province to cease operation until inspectors can verify their safety.
Rescue teams from Shenyang Coalmine Corporation installed fans early on Friday morning to blow methane and other toxic gases from the mine.
Rescuers have already entered the area of the gas leak. The area has seen heavy rain and snowfall since Friday noon, adding to difficulties for rescuers.
"It's torture to wait all day long and hear nothing about my husband," said a woman named Jiang whose husband is still trapped underground.
Jiang Zhenbo, the general engineer of the Liaoyang Dengta administration for coal mine safety, told China National Radio that the miners are trapped around 170 meters underground and rescuers need more time to clear a path to them.
Six rescue teams, 55 people in all, from Shenyang Coalmine Corporation are working in turns.
The five victims' bodies have been buried. One injured miner is receiving emergency treatment.
"We just wish the trapped miners could find another way out," Wang Fuyuan, a local publicity official, was quoted by China National Radio.
A source close to the coal mine said usually several people at a time would work underground.
However, on Thursday, there was a gas leak and miners were organized to help with the rescue. Then the gas blast occurred and trapped dozens of miners, including deputy managers and technicians.
Liu Ce contributed to this story.