updated 12/1/2004 3:40:10 AM ET 2004-12-01T08:40:10

The death toll in a massive coal mine explosion in central China rose to 166 on Wednesday, government radio reported, making it the deadliest accident in the country’s disaster-plagued mining industry in years.

The report on the Web site of China National Radio came after officials said rescue efforts were blocked by fires and toxic fumes in the Chenjiashan coal mine, which was hit by an explosion on Sunday.

“All 166 miners in the mine are dead,” the report said, citing an unnamed spokesman for the rescue headquarters. It didn’t say whether more bodies had been found or give other details.

The death toll earlier was reported to be at 65, with 101 miners missing.

The chief mine safety official for Shaanxi province, where the Chenjiashan mine is located, reportedly said that the miners had “no hope” of survival because of high levels of airborne gas and carbon monoxide.

“It is impossible that the miners still trapped underground can survive,” said the official, Huo Shichang, quoted by the government’s Xinhua News Agency.

Deadliest since 2000
The accident is the country’s deadliest since 162 miners were killed in a fire in 2000 in southern China. It follows an October explosion that killed 148 miners.

In a separate accident Wednesday, state media said 13 people were killed and three missing in a gas explosion in a mine in the southern province of Guizhou.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest, with 4,153 miners reported killed in the first nine months of this year in fires, floods and other disasters. When more recent accidents are included, more than 4,500 miners have died this year.

Fires and explosions often are blamed on disregard of safety rules or lack of required equipment needed to remove natural gas that seeps from the coal bed.

The blast Sunday in the Chenjiashan mine occurred some five miles from its mouth. Emergency workers descended into the mine Monday to repair ventilation equipment needed to clear away toxic fumes. But as late as Tuesday evening, state media said some areas were still too dangerous to enter.

The government has repeatedly promised to reduce deaths in coal mines. But officials say severe nationwide power shortages might be increasing pressure for mines to raise coal production, boosting the risk of accidents.

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