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82 still missing in Chinese mine blast

XINMI, China -- Desperate to know their loved ones' fates, grieving relatives scuffled with guards yesterday at the scene of China's worst mining accident this year as rescue workers pulled more bodies out of a mine shaft choked with poison gas.

At least 66 workers were killed in a blast at Daping Mine in the central Chinese province of Henan. Eighty-two others were missing last night and feared dead.

''It has been two days and two nights, and I haven't seen him. I'm just here to find him," said a crying and frustrated Hua Zhenxue, whose brother was missing. He struggled with security guards as he tried to scale the mine's gate and enter the site.

The explosion tore through the shaft Wednesday as 446 miners were working, sending the gas density in the mine's atmosphere rocketing to 40 percent in under three minutes, the official Xinhua Agency said.

Most of the dead miners suffocated on the toxic gas that spewed from the coal bed and ignited, officials said.

Yesterday, dozens of grieving relatives waited anxiously near the scene, which was cordoned off by police tape and a metal gate. Some cried and held up photos of the dead, while others angrily tried to cross security barriers.

Ai Xianhui, whose husband was missing, said she had spent hours trying to persuade local authorities to let her on the scene. ''Even though I said a lot of things to them, they still won't let me in," said Ai, huddled on the sidewalk with her child.

The accident comes amid a safety crackdown on China's coal mines -- the world's deadliest. Each year, thousands of deaths are reported in explosions, underground floods, and other accidents, often blamed on negligence, lack of safety equipment, and poor ventilation.

As a 1,000-member rescue and recovery team continued its work, local officials have said that chances of survival for the missing miners are ''quite slim."

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