An explosion at a coal mine in northeast China has killed at least 42 workers, state news agency Xinhua says, citing emergency services.
A further 66 are trapped and first-aid workers are searching for them, according to the agency, in the latest deadly incident to hit the industry.
The blast happened at 2.30am on Saturday at a mine in Heilongjiang province, according to a statement issued by the State Administration of Work Safety.
A total of 528 miners were working in the pit, near Hegang City, when the blast occurred, the state administration said.
State-run China Central Television (CCTV) had earlier put the toll at 31 with 82 trapped underground.
The mine, which produces 1.45 million tonnes of coal a year, is owned by the Heilongjiang Longmay Mining Holding Group, based in provincial capital Harbin.
Xinhua said vice premier Zhang Dejiang was going to the scene of the incident to direct rescue operations. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had given instructions on the rescue work.
According to the company's website, in 2009 it was ranked 12th out of the top 100 Chinese mining companies and seventh in terms of production volume, without giving further details.
China has a dismal work safety record, with thousands of people dying every year in mines and factories and on construction sites.
Its coal mines are among the most dangerous in the world, with safety standards often ignored in the quest for profits and the drive to meet surging demand for coal - the source of about 70 per cent of China's energy.
Beijing has tried for several years to modernise its collieries to control the leakage of gas, particularly methane, a pollutant responsible for several mine explosions.
The government provides about two billion yuan ($A326.3 million) of subsidies for mines developing technology for collecting methane, Huang Shengchu, the president of the China Coal Information Institute, told AFP recently.
In October four owners of an illegal colliery in Guizhou province in the southwest went on the run after 14 workers died when a mine collapsed. The four were later caught by authorities.
And an explosion at a mine in central Henan province in September left more than 50 people dead. The work safety administration said mine shafts had been destroyed after a gas explosion at the pit in the city of Pingdingshan.
Official figures show that more than 3,200 workers died in collieries last year, but independent labour groups say the actual figure could be much higher, as many accidents are covered up in order to avoid costly mine shutdowns.
Due to the country's heavy use of coal to power its fast-paced economic growth, it has become one of the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases alongside the United States.
© 2009 AFP