The death toll in a massive coal mine explosion in north China has risen to 166, making it the worst mining disaster in the country's recent history, local officials said yesterday.
"This morning they made the announcement to a handful of reporters at the command center," said Yan Mangxue, the party secretary for a nearby village where 14 of the dead miners are from.
"They made the conclusion because there's no chance anyone would survive. They haven't told the relatives yet. The relatives still don't know," he said.
Meanwhile, thirteen miners were killed and three others were missing after a gas blast at a coal mine in southwest China's Guizhou Province yesterday, the latest disaster to blight the industry, state media reported.
A total of 49 miners were working underground when the explosion occurred at the licensed township-run enterprise in Liupanshui.
Thirty-three people escaped, including four who were injured, the Xinhua news agency said. Rescue were still searching for the three missing miners.
A total of 293 workers were underground at the mine in Tongchuan city, Shaanxi Province, when the accident happened on Sunday. Some 127 miners escaped.
Investigators determined that a back-to-back gas blast and coal-dust explosion knocked out all ventilation systems in the pit, state media said.
"In an environment with a high density of coal gas and carbon monoxide, it is impossible that the miners still trapped underground can survive," Hou Shichang, head of the Shaanxi Province coal mine industry administration told a press conference in Tongchuan yesterday, according to Xinhua news agency.
Hundreds of miners' family members, many of whom had travelled from other parts of Shaanxi to the scene, had prepared for the worst after keeping vigil outside the shaft for the past three days.
"The relatives all realized there was no hope," retired miner Feng Zhijie said.
Local officials on Tuesday persuaded the relatives to leave the scene and took them in vans to a nearby mine, apparently to avoid media coverage and to better control them, Feng said.
Anger at the mine's poor attention to safety had spilled over into a beating incident involving a mine official, Feng said.
"Families were crying and collapsed on the ground. Journalists tried to film the scene. A mine official came out and said there should be no more interviewing. Several young men then punched the official," Feng said.
The official was not seriously hurt, he said.
Yan said local officials like himself had been asked to begin informing the families that their relatives were dead.
Xinhua said 101 bodies still remained in the mine while 65 had been retrieved.
"It could take about 10 days before all the bodies are brought up," Yan said.
Work to recover the bodies was being hampered by continuing dangerously high gas density and the risk of another explosion.
The main ventilation system resumed operation on Monday, but according to preliminary analysis, areas of the shaft were still on fire, according to Xinhua.
More than 7,000 workers are killed each year in China's coal mines, considered the world's most dangerous. China is the world's biggest producer and consumer of coal.