At least 115 miners were pulled alive from a flooded coal mine in north China after being trapped for over a week, eating bark to survive and prompting jubilant officials to hail their survival a miracle.
Officials said 153 miners were trapped in the unfinished Wangjialing mine in Xiangning, Shanxi province, after it filled with water last Sunday.
The survivors were pulled out late on Sunday night and throughout Monday, with 38 miners still missing. The survivors’ condition was reported as stable.
“It is a miracle,” said Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, waiting at the entrance of the mine pit, was quoted by the Xinhua news agency as saying.
“The trapped miners stayed so unwaveringly determined down the mine shaft, passing through eight days and eight nights to live.”
Survivors were brought out from a working platform, where rescuers had drilled a vertical hole last week. The hole ensured oxygen in the water-flooded pit while rescuers sent down glucose.
The workers also survived by eating bark from pine wood used in construction of the mines, Chinese television said.
It was rare good news in China’s perilous coal-mining industry, the deadliest in the world, with thousands killed every year in mine floods, explosions, collapses and other accidents.
Workers are tempted into the mine wells by wages that can be much higher than for many other jobs open to blue-collar workers and rural migrants.
One of the surviving workers insisted on borrowing a cell phone from a doctor to call his family in central China’s rural Henan province.
“I’m good. How are you and the kid?” he asked his wife, according to a report on the website of the People’s Daily newspaper.
The survivors were brought out on stretches to loud cheering and clapping from scores of rescue workers who had toiled tirelessly day and night. Ambulances lined the road out of the mine to take the survivors to hospital.
RESCUE WATCHED NATIONWIDE
Over the weekend, China was on public holiday for the traditional “tomb sweeping” festival, when people mourn their dead kin. The spectacle of the rescue has captured nationwide interest.
“As long as there’s one percent of hope, we will still make a 100 percent effort,” said Huang Yi, a spokesman for the national mine safety authority, according to Chinese television news.
Thousands of family members awaiting news of their loved ones and other onlookers stood along the road, bursting into applause when the ambulances passed by. Residents converged on a hospital treating survivors with gifts of milk and other food.
“I would be more than happy to see whoever is brought out of the mine, even if it’s not my father,” said one young man.
The government had mobilised thousands of rescue workers to pump out water and search for the miners, but hopes of anyone emerging alive appeared to dim 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.
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.
Strong demand for energy and lax safety standards have made China’s mines often deadly places to work, 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.
(Writing by Chris Buckley and Jacqueline Wong; Editing by Nick Macfie)