Hebei's mine explosion: 51 missing

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Fifty-one miners are missing after a gas explosion early on Thursday ripped through the Huanerhe coal mine.

The state-owned local mine is in Hebei province's Chengde city. The explosion occurred at around 3:00am (local time) on May 19. The State Administration of Mine Safety said "Fifty-one mine workers were in the mine shaft and it is not clear if they are alive."

Local and provincial leaders have rushed to the state-owned mine to oversee rescue operations, while a group of experts had also been dispatched to investigated the cause, the administration said. Local officials contacted refused to comment on the explosion or the rescue efforts.

China relies on coal for 70 per cent of its energy needs, but mines are the world's dangerous.

Official figures showing more than 6,000 miners died in accidents last year, although independent estimates say the real figure could be up to 20,000. In the first quarter of 2005, the official death toll jumped 20 per cent over the same period last year to 1,113.