XIANGNING, China, April 5 (Reuters) – Nine miners trapped in a flooded coal mine in northern China were rescued early on Monday after more than seven days underground, with signs that over 140 others may also still be alive in the shaft.
Officials have said 153 miners were trapped in the unfinished Wangjialing mine in Xiangning, Shanxi province, after it filled with water from an adjacent underground source over a week ago — one of the worst mine accidents for some time in a nation with notoriously dangerous coal mines.
Some locals believe even more miners were trapped. [ID:nTOE63101B]
The government mobilised 3,000 rescue workers to pump out water and search for trapped miners, but hopes of anyone emerging alive appeared to be dimming until rescuers heard knocking on a mine pipe on Friday.
After frantic pumping, the water level dropped low enough for rescue workers to enter the shaft, who then pulled out the nine, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
“Their blood pressure and heart rates remained normal after having being trapped in the shaft for one week,” Xinhua reported of the survivors.
The rescued survivors were weak but lucid and able to speak despite the ordeal, identifying themselves to doctors, the semi-official China News Service reported.
“Their widespread problem is that after a long time soaking in water, they have partially ulcerated (skin),” the report said.
The Xinhua report said 144 miners were still trapped and “rescue workers heard banging on a metal pipe, indicating further signs of life”.
Another 300 rescuers had gone into the shaft, hoping to find survivors, Chinese television news said. An official helping oversee rescue efforts said it may be Monday afternoon before searchers reach the tunnels where there could be more survivors.
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, the senior official in charge of work safety, told the rescuers “to race against time and go all out to continue the rescue work”, the report said.
But many of those 144 appear likely to join China’s toll of thousands of miners killed every year by explosions, shaft collapses, flooding and toxic gas.
Strong demand for energy and lax safety standards have made China’s mines the most dangerous in the world, despite the government’s drive to clamp down on small, unsafe operations where most accidents occur.
The number of people killed in Chinese coal mines dropped to 2,631 in 2009, an average of seven a day, from 3,215 in 2008, according to official statistics.
China has ordered the consolidation or takeover of many private mines. It says the shutdown of many of the most dangerous private operations has helped cut accidents.
But the deadliest accidents are not limited to private firms. The Wangjialing mine was a project belonging to a joint venture between China National Coal Group and Shanxi Coking Coal Group, two of China’s larger state-owned firms.
Relatives of miners and some Chinese media have blamed the firms for ignoring safety requirements in their push to start operations. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim)