(Adds govt statement, para 3, further details, paras 5-7)
BEIJING, June 21 (Reuters) - An explosion at an illegally operated mine in Henan, China’s third-largest coal producing province, killed 46 miners on Monday, while another 26 narrowly escaped, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Six of the survivors were seriously burned, added the China News Service.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao demanded rescuers “exhaust all means possible” in relief efforts, and that a probe be conducted to ensure such a disaster could not happen again, the central government said in a statement on its website (www.gov.cn).
The 72 miners were trapped after stored explosives blew up at the Xingdong No.2 Mine in Pingdingshan in the central province of Henan, Xinhua said. The cause of the blast is not yet known.
Police have already detained mine owner Liu Jianguo and frozen the mine’s bank account, it added.
Liu had been ordered by the local government to stop production after mining permission expired on June 6, but illegally reconnected the electricity that had been cut off and resumed work, the report said.
At least two government officials have also been fired, Xinhua added.
Henan produced 208 million tonnes of coal in 2008, nearly 10 percent of the country’s total output.
Last year, Pingdingshan ordered all 157 shafts within its district to close, after a pit explosion killed 35 people in September. [ID:nSHA144339]
Due to strong demand for energy in a booming economy and lax safety standards, thousands of people are killed in China’s mines every year, despite government pledges to shut or consolidate many small or unsafe operations to help cut accidents.
The number of people killed in coal mines dropped to 2,631 in 2009, an average of seven a day, from 3,215 in 2008, according to official statistics. (Reporting by Liu Zhen and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)