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China pit explosion traps 33 miners

A gas explosion has killed over a dozen coal miners in southwestern China, with many others still missing. Some 200 rescue workers are searching for survivors, according to Chinese media.

The blast occurred around lunchtime on Monday near the south-western city of Chongqing, in the town of Laisu, local officials said. They said 35 miners were working in the shaft at the time, and that two of them managed to escape. The blast trapped 33 people underground, with 15 miners already confirmed dead.

Over 200 people, including firefighters, police, and mining experts were searching the coal mine, Xinhua news agency reported.

Accidents of this kind are often caused when a flame or electrical spark ignites gas leaking from the coal seam. Ventilation systems are supposed to prevent gas from becoming trapped.

China's mining industry has long been among the world's deadliest, although safety improvements and the closure of smaller, more dangerous mines have reduced the death toll in recent years.

China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal but has announced plans to shutter more than 1,000 outdated mines.

The head of the State Administration of Work Safety said this year that struggling coal mines might be likely to overlook maintenance.

mm/msh (AP, dpa)