BEIJING - A gas explosion at a coal mine in China's central Henan province early on Tuesday killed 35 people and 44 others were missing, the government's work safety watchdog said.

Another 14 workers had escaped the mine, which was a small, locally operated venture, at the time of the accident, the State Administration of Work Safety said in a statement on its website (

The report said rescue teams were still searching for the missing miners and safety officials would investigate the cause of the blast, but it gave no further details.

The official Xinhua news agency said the pit was being upgraded, and the local government had not given permission to resume production there.

Lax safety standards and strong demand for resources have made China's mines the deadliest in the world, despite a government drive to clamp down on the tiny, unsafe operations that are the site of most accidents.

More than 3,000 people died in mine floods, explosions, collapses and other accidents in 2008 alone.

(Reporting by Kirby Chien; Editing by Ken Wills)