updated 3/20/2005 10:03:38 PM ET 2005-03-21T03:03:38

Rescue workers in northern China have recovered 60 bodies and were searching for nine others after an explosion tore through a coal mine, the government said Sunday.

The blast occurred Saturday at the Xishui Colliery in Shuozhou, in a major coal-mining area in Shanxi province. Police have detained four coal mine owners, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Xinhua reported that 60 bodies had been found by Sunday evening. Nineteen of the dead miners had been working in a neighboring mine and were trapped when the wall where they were working collapsed from the impact of the explosion, it said.

Footage on state television showed rescue workers dressed in orange jumpsuits with oxygen tanks strapped to their backs rushing out from buses and officials looking at layout plans of the mines.

China Central Television said the ventilation system had been turned back on but did not give any other details.

Xishui Colliery had been ordered to suspend production after safety problems last November, but work had resumed “in defiance of the order,” Xinhua said, citing an unidentified official with the provincial coal mine supervision office.

The other coal mine, Kangjiayao, was operating with government approval, it said.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest, with thousands of people dying every year in explosions, floods and cave-ins. Investigators often blame indifference to safety rules or a lack of required ventilation equipment to clear the gas that seeps from coal beds

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