BEIJING (AP) — As many as 36 coal miners have died in a pair of accidents in northeast China, the latest misfortunes to hit a beleaguered industry suffering from a drop in demand and looming layoffs.
In the city of Huludao in Liaoning province, 17 miners died following a fire in the pit caused by sparks thrown off by welders, the State Administration of Work Safety reported on its website.
Another ten miners were being treated in a hospital, the administration said.
To the north in the Heilongjiang province city of Hegang, 19 miners trapped underground since Wednesday have yet to be found, the administration said. With fires in the pit still raging, rescuers have given up hope of finding any of them alive, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
China's mines have long been the world's deadliest, but safety improvements and a decline in coal demand reduced the carnage in recent years.
Last year, 931 people were killed in mine accidents throughout China, down from nearly 7,000 in 2002.
The industry now faces new threats as the slowing economy and a government-led shift to cleaner energy sources are reducing demand for coal. A glut in the market has brought prices for the fuel used to produce 60 percent of China's electricity down by more than half since 2011, mirroring a similar decline worldwide.
Large state-owned mines that were major employers in the vast, economically depressed northeast are planning to lay off tens of thousands of workers in coming months. Salaries for miners have already been cut as their companies either move to close, privatize or upgrade their technology to reduce reliance on manpower.