44 remain missing in Hebei coal mine blast
Rescue workers found the bodies of seven miners at the colliery rocked by an underground blast in northern China's Hebei Province on Thursday.
Forty-four miners remain missing, believed to be trapped in tunnels after a build up of gas exploded at the Nuan'erhe coal mine near the city of Chengde, the State Administration of Work Safety said on its website on Friday.
The rescue operation is still going on although they many now fear the missing may have perished.
"Compensation plans are being made and relatives of each victim will be paid at least 200,000 yuan (US$ 24,200) or even more," Xinhua News Agency quoted Wang Yushan, head of the local work safety bureau, as saying.
85 miners were working underground when the blast occurred at 3 am on Thursday, as reported on Friday by China Daily.
Thirty four were rescued shortly after as local and provincial officials rushed to the scene to oversee the rescue operation.
The mine suffered two previous large gas explosions that killed 29 miners and injured 11 in January 2002.
The privately-owned mine was operating illegally despite local authorities twice ordering it to halt production for failing to obtain necessary safety licences.
A group of mine and safety experts have also been dispatched to investigate the cause, the administration said.
A heavy police presence surrounded colliery, blocking access as the mood in the local Bajia township turned to somber to anger as relatives awaited news of their loved ones.
The Nuan'erhe mine is the biggest employer in the area and hires around 500 miners with a combined work force of around 1,000.
The accident occurred just one week after a blast in a coal mine in southwestern China's Sichuan Province, which killed 21 miners.
The nation's death toll from coal mine accidents in the first quarter rose 21 per cent from a year earlier to 1,113, the work safety administration said on April 5. The number of accidents fell 7.4 per cent to 503.
China relies on coal for 70 per cent of its energy needs, leading many mine owners to disregard safety in order to meet demand.
Statistics from the National Development and Reform Commission show output of coal jumped 17.34 per cent to 1.96 billion tons last year.
With power cuts a regular occurrence in parts of the country last year and more forecast for this year, mass and often illegal production has become one of main causes of mine accidents, insiders say.
"Exacerbating the problem is many miners are farmers-turned migrant workers who are not well trained," said minister of the State Administration of Work Safety Li Yizhong, who travelled to the scene after the explosion.
Investigations into the most deadly Chinese mine tragedy in recent years, that left 214 workers dead in February, concluded that a disregard for worker safety by profit-focused operators was to blame.