Chinese officials say a gas blast at a coal mine in Northern China has killed 70 people and trapped another 26 underground. As Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, the explosion is the latest disaster to hit China's notoriously unsafe mining industry.
China's State Administration for Work Safety says the explosion happened early Thursday at a mine in the country's northern province of Shanxi, one of the top coal-producing areas. Only a handful of workers have been rescued.
Officials say the mine was properly licensed, but its managers are still being questioned by police.
China's coal mines are among the most dangerous in the world. More than 4700 Chinese coal miners died last year - a rate of nearly 13 a day.
Jeffrey Crothall is an editor at the China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong. He says the demand for coal in China's booming economy and the potential profits from coal extraction are so high that mine owners are pressured into exceeding safety quotas on a daily basis.
"Coal mine owners will push their workers harder and harder to extract more coal and make more money, and unfortunately safety just gets left behind," he said.
Many of China's coal mine disasters have been found to involve insufficient safety systems in areas such as ventilation and fire control.
In the worst accident this year, 172 miners were killed in August when their mine in eastern China's Shandong province flooded after a nearby river burst its banks.
The central government has taken a number of measures in recent years to try to improve safety standards in the coal industry. Since 2005, the authorities have closed down thousands of unsafe coal mines, and rewards are offered to the publics for tips on illegal or unsafe mining practices.
But Crothall says safety policies are not being implemented, because mine owners are more concerned about their economic interests. He says the owners are often in collusion with local government officials, an accusation widely repeated elsewhere.
"In fact very often they are the same people." he said. "So what essentially the central government is asking is [for] the culprits to investigate and prosecute themselves. And that's unlikely to happen."
Chinese officials are often evaluated on the basis of their districts' economic growth, which in some regions is based largely on coal mining.