Death toll from mine blast rises to 26

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Rescuers have hauled six more bodies from a mine in northern China that was hit by a gas explosion this week, taking the final death toll to 26, state media said on Thursday.

"The ventilation system underground was damaged by the gas blast and three tunnels caved in, which made it very difficult for us to search for the missing miners," rescue worker Du Shifu said.

The blast ripped through the Number Five Coal Mine in Jinsuoguan Town at Tongchuan city in Shaanxi province on Tuesday when 40 miners were in the pit.

Three miners from the 14 who were rescued were still in hospital, Xinhua news agency said. Police were investigating the mine owner, it said.

China officially recorded about 2,700 mining fatalities in the first half of the year, with major accidents involving up to 29 fatalities more than doubling over the same period in 2004, official reports said.

China's mines are considered the deadliest in the world, as safety is often sacrificed in pursuit of the fuel driving the country's rapid industrialization and economic growth.

Official figures show more than 6,000 miners died in mine accidents in China last year although independent estimates say the real figure could be as high as 20,000. Mines falsify death counts to escape closure and fines.