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Chinese coal mine fire traps 28 underground

BEIJING » A coal mine fire trapped 28 workers underground in eastern China on Thursday as rescuers elsewhere tried to reach 42 miners not seen since heavy rains flooded other two mines over the weekend, officials said.

The ongoing accidents in different regions highlight the continuing risks of China’s mining industry, one of the world’s most dangerous despite the government’s efforts to improve its safety record.

The State Administration of Work Safety said an air compressor 700 feet (225 meters) underground caught fire in Shandong province Wednesday evening, trapping 36 miners working in the area, according to an initial investigation. The department said that 28 people were still trapped Thursday morning. It did not say if the other eight were rescued or escaped themselves.

State-run CCTV television showed rescue workers putting large bags of mud and earth on a cart that would be used to block the fire, which was still burning underground.

Hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in southern China, rescuers were still working to reach 42 miners who were trapped Saturday in two accidents triggered by heavy rains.

Water flooded a mine that was under construction in Guizhou province, trapping 23 workers deep underground. Rescuers have been pumping out the water, which had fallen 50 feet (16 meters) from original levels as of Wednesday night, the deputy director of the publicity department of Pingtang county said Thursday. The official gave only his surname, Yang, as is common with Chinese officials.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported the water was originally 330 feet (100 meters) deep in some places.

In neighboring Guangxi autonomous region, 19 miners were missing in a coal mine that collapsed Saturday after days of heavy rain.

More than 80 rescuers were working around the clock to dig through a sludge-flooded tunnel to reach the miners, Xinhua reported.

The owner of the mine, Guangxi Heshan Coal Mining Co., posted a notice offering 2 million yuan ($300,000) to rescuers for each miner they pull out alive.

Forty-nine other miners had escaped Saturday’s cave-in, and three were confirmed dead.

China’s mining industry is the deadliest in the world, although the government has improved safety standards in recent years. A total of 2,433 people died in coal mine accidents in China last year, 198 fewer than in 2009.

China obtains a majority of its electricity from coal and that isn’t expected to change soon because the country is building more coal-burning power plants.

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