At least 32 miners have died in the second coal mine explosion in a week in China. The mine gas explosion in Chifeng city in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Saturday followed an explosion at an unlicensed mine in Heilongjiang province on November 30 which claimed 21 lives.
The latest incident occurred around midday on Saturday at a mine operated by Baoma Mining Co Ltd in the Yuanbaoshan district, 45km from the centre of Chifeng. There were 181 people working underground at the time of the accident and 149 workers managed to get above ground.
As of 4am on Sunday, 268 policemen, and 119 rescuers and medical staff had rushed to the accident site.
State Administration of Work Safety director Yang Huanning said safety officials in Chifeng had been suspended and investigations would be launched to determine any dereliction of duty.
The mine produces 450,000 tonnes of coal every year to provide power and heat supply for local residents.
News of the blast came just hours after 21 miners who were trapped for four days after an explosion hit their unlicensed, private coal mine in Qitaihe City, Heilongjiang, were confirmed dead.
State television CCTV reported the workers could not be reached by rescuers due to presence of poisonous gases and insurance firms began contacting the families of the trapped workers to settle claims. Initial enquiries showed that the blast was an accident.
Four people were arrested in connection with that disaster, including the mine owner and three managers.
On October 31, a mine blast in Chongqing province killed 33 miners.
China has made great progress in improving mine safety in recent years but its mines are still the world's deadliest. Accidents routinely make national news and are often attributed to bosses who disregard safety standards in the quest for higher profits.
Safety regulators acknowledge that some mines cut corners on safety standards due to financial pressure.
Official government figures put the annual number of mining-related deaths in China at less than 1000, but rights groups say the numbers are underreported and are actually much higher.
The accidents have alarmed regulators over the past month as China ramps up coal production to meet winter demand and the deputy director of the country's work safety watchdog said last week that an order had been issued to all of the country's coal mines in the past month to conduct a safety overhaul.