BEIJING (Reuters/AFP) - A gas explosion at a coal mine in central Henan province on Tuesday killed 35 people and 44 were missing, the governments work safety watchdog said, in the latest of a long series of calamities striking Chinas pits. Fourteen workers escaped unhurt from the mine, a small, locally-operated venture, at the time of the accident, the State Administration of Work Safety said on its website. The city of Pingdingshan in Henan province later ordered all 157 coal mine shifts in its district to close, Xinhua news agency reported. The provincial government ordered all collieries with annual capacity up to 300,000 to halt production. A total of 93 people were working in the mine in Pingdingshan city when the blast took place in the early hours, the State Administration of Work Safety announced on its website. Fourteen were able to escape, it said. The explosion came just a few days after Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang called on authorities to improve safety in the countrys coal mines in particular to prevent gas blast accidents, according to remarks published by Xinhua. Zhang and State Administration of Work Safety chief Luo Lin were dispatched to the scene to oversee the rescue operation and investigation, the agency said. Ventilation was restored in most of the mine shafts before noon, Xinhua quoted Zhang Jufeng, an official with the citys coal mine bureau, as saying. The agency, quoting a spokesman for the citys Communist Party committee, said the Xinhua No. 4 pit was undergoing renovations and had not yet been authorised by the city government to resume operations. The mines owners have been placed under police surveillance and its bank account frozen, Xinhua said, adding that a preliminary investigation had shown illegal mining was to blame for the accident. China has a dismal work safety record, with thousands of people dying every year in mines, 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 percent of Chinas energy. 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. Luo said Saturday that officials would shut down about 1,000 small coal mines this year, in an attempt to improve management and safety. He also said that seven major coal mine accidents in China in August had all occurred at small facilities. More than 12,000 small coal mines whose annual output was less than 300,00 tonnes have been shut down nationwide since 2005, according to Xinhua. The mine in Pingdingshan had an annual output of 150,000 tonnes, the agency said. Chinas raw coal production rose 8.9 percent year-on-year in the first seven months of 2009 to 1.61 billion tonnes, the agency reported. Due to the countrys 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.