china coal mine disaster
© (AP Photo/Xinhua, Zhao Ge)

In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, rescuers work at the accident site after a coal mine collapsed in Tiechanggou township, China's Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. China's official news agency says 16 coal miners were killed after their shaft collapsed in the country's northwest.
A coal mine shaft collapsed in northwestern China, killing 16 miners, an official said Saturday, highlighting the persistence of safety problems in the industry despite a leveling off of demand.

Another 11 miners were injured in the disaster, which struck just before midnight Friday in Tiechanggou township outside the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi.

Thirty-three miners were in the shaft when the accident occurred, six of whom were brought out by rescuers, said an official with the State Administration of Work Safety. The official, speaking on routine condition of anonymity, said that all of the injured were in stable condition and that the cause of the cave-in was under investigation.

State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of injured miners sitting up in their hospital beds and describing their experiences to a reporter.

A man who answered the phone at the mine's offices said he could not comment, and calls to the Xinjiang regional safety administration rang unanswered.

China's mines are among the most dangerous in the world, although improved safety measures have vastly lowered the number of fatalities in mine accidents in recent years.

The government's China National Coal Administration reported 1,067 deaths in 604 coal mining accidents in 2013, down 23 percent from the year before. That's down from more than 6,000 a decade ago, largely due to increased inspections and the closure of small and unregulated mines.

The decline has coincided with plateauing demand for coal as the Chinese economy cools from the dizzying heights of the last few years.

While China still produces and consumes almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, the amount it burned in the first three quarters of 2014 was off by about 2 percent from the same period last year, according to Greenpeace energy analysts in China.

That came despite slower but still robust economic growth of 7.4 percent during the same period, showing that China's economy is becoming somewhat more efficient in its energy use.

Widespread use of coal is largely blamed for the choking smog that envelops major cities in the country. Beijing on Saturday was smothered in a toxic cloud that prompted many citizens to don air filtering masks when venturing outside.