BEIJING: At least 35 people were killed and 44 were trapped after a gas explosion at a coal mine in central China today, officials said, in the latest deadly accident to strike the industry here.

A total of 93 people were working in the mine in Pingdingshan city in Henan province when the blast took place in the early hours, the State Administration of Work Safety announced on its website. Fourteen were able to escape, it said.

Production was suspended at all of the city’s 157 mines pending a “safety overhaul”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The explosion came just a few days after Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang called on authorities to improve safety in the country’s coal mines — in particular to prevent gas blast accidents, according to remarks published by Xinhua.

Zhang and State Administration of Work Safety chief Luo Lin were dispatched to the scene to oversee the rescue operation and investigation, the agency said.

Ventilation was restored in most of the mine shafts before noon, Xinhua quoted Zhang Jufeng, an official with the city’s coal mine bureau, as saying.

The agency, quoting a spokesman for the city’s Communist Party committee, said the Xinhua

No 4 pit was undergoing renovations and had not

yet been authorised by the city government to resume operations.

The mine’s owners have been placed under police surveillance and its bank account frozen, Xinhua said, adding that a preliminary investigation had shown illegal mining was to blame for the accident.

Luo said on Saturday that officials would shut down about 1,000 small coal mines this year, in an attempt to improve management and safety.

He also said that

seven major coal mine accidents in China in August had all occurred at small

facilities.