5/1/2006 China -- At least 27 miners have died in a blast at a privately-owned coal mine in north-west China. The blast happened at the Wayaobao mine in Shaanxi province on Saturday, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

Thirty-nine people were underground at the time of the blast. Seven miners survived with light injuries and five are still missing.

The State Administration of Coal Mine Safety said on its website there was "not much hope" of finding them alive. The mine, which has an annual output of 30,000 tonnes, was operating legally but its owner and other staff had been arrested, Xinhua reports.

China's mines are among the most dangerous in the world - more than 5,000 deaths are reported every year in fires, floods and explosions. The government said earlier this month it would shut down all small coal mines by 2007 in an attempt to improve the industry's safety record. Coal generates more than two-thirds of China's electricity, and production has been stepped up to meet demand.

(BBC News)