Blast rips through coal mine in northern China, killing 9

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A powerful explosion ripped through a coal mine in northern China on early Monday, killing nine miners and injuring more than a dozen others, state-run media reported on Tuesday. It follows a series of deadly accidents in recent weeks.

The accident happened at around 3:20 a.m. local time on Monday when an explosion rocked the Xingya Coal Mine in Bayannur, a prefecture-level city in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region of northern China. More than two dozen people were working at the mine when the blast happened.

A local government spokesman told the state-run Xinhua news agency on Tuesday that the bodies of four miners were found shortly after the explosion, while five more were found after an eight-hour search. Sixteen miners were rescued and rushed to a local hospital, where two of them remain in a serious condition.

Xinhua said the mine was licensed and had a maximum output of 300,000 tons (600 million pounds) a year. It was not immediately known what caused Monday's accident, but Xinhua said an investigation has been launched.

Safety conditions at mines in China have significantly improved in recent years but they remain among the world's most dangerous with at least 289 fatalities in the first quarter of this year. There were a total of 1,973 fatalities in 2011, 2,433 fatalities in 2010 and 2,631 in 2009, according to official figures.

Earlier this month, eleven workers were killed when floodwaters trapped a group of miners who were working at the Shanfu Coal Mine near the city of Changzhi in Xiangyuan County, which is located in Shanxi province. The owner of the mine initially claimed nine miners were trapped, but local authorities later discovered that eleven people were working at the mine which was operating with an expired production license.

China in recent years shut down scores of small mines to improve safety and efficiency in the mining industry. The country has also ordered all mines to build emergency shelter systems by June 2013 which are to be equipped with machines to produce oxygen and air conditioning, protective walls and airtight doors to protect workers against toxic gases and other hazardous factors.

The first manned test of such a permanent underground chamber was carried out in August 2011 when around 100 people - including managers, engineers, miners, medical staff, and the chamber's developers - took part in a 48-hour test at a mine owned by the China National Coal Group in the city of Shuozhou in northern China's Shanxi Province.

One of the worst mining accidents in China in recent years happened in November 2009 when 104 workers were killed after several explosions at a coal mine in Heilongjiang province.

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