A mine explosion, caused by a gas leak in China, has killed at least 20 miners and left dozens trapped in the southwest province of Yunnan Thursday.
The blast occurred around 6:30 a.m., trapping 24 people in the Sizhuang Coal Mine, according to the state run Xinhua news agency.
A local mine safety official told the AFP that the mine was hit by a “coal and gas outburst.”
A rescue operation is underway with hundreds of firemen, emergency management, and medical personnel frantically working to recover the trapped miners. However, officials are concerned that the high levels of gas in the coal mine could trigger another explosion – challenging the rescue operation.
China’s vast coal mines are known as some of the most dangerous in the world.
China significantly reduced the number of deaths occurring in its mines since one of its deadliest years on record in 2002. Since then many illegal mines have been closed and smaller mines merged with large state-owned enterprises.
Nevertheless, concerns still persist with regards to the safety and management of the mines. China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, relying on the mineral for 70 percent of its rapidly expanding energy needs.
Geoff Crothall of the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin told The Guardian, “Just because you have large state-owned mines doesn’t mean they are properly managed or that safety has been made a high priority.”
According to official statistics, 2,433 people died working in China's coal mines last year. However, labor rights groups argue the death tolls of miners are significantly higher than what is officially reported.
Today’s mine blast is just the latest fatality in China’s notoriously dangerous mines and comes only a week after a blast in a coalmine in central China killed eight people –following a 2.9-magnitude earthquake that ignited a "rock burst."