Rescuers race to find missing miners

April 6, 2010 12:00 am

, XIANGNING, Apr 6 – Rescuers were searching on Tuesday for 33 workers still trapped in a flooded Chinese coal mine, a day after over 100 others were dramatically saved, but joy was tempered by news of five deaths.

The bodies were found during overnight searches at the Wangjialing mine in Shanxi province, China\’s coal-producing heartland in the north, but authorities say there is still hope the others will be found alive.

On Monday, rescuers wept with joy as 115 workers were brought one by one from the pit – some rare good news for an industry plagued by fatal accidents which last year killed more than 2,600 miners, according to government figures.

Survivors have said they endured the eight days and nights in the massive pit by eating tree bark and sawdust, and occasionally drinking the dirty water that accumulated in the pit.

As workers installed more pumps and other drainage equipment at the state-owned mine, with nurses at the ready to tend to eventual survivors, anxious relatives awaited news of their loved ones.

"We don\’t know whether he is still trapped underground or in hospital," Yang Xiaolin, 45, said of his nephew, a 35-year-old electrician who was working in the pit.

"We\’ve been to the hospital but they refuse to tell us if he is still trapped and they refuse to let us in," he told AFP.

Access to hospitals where the survivors were being treated has been mainly cut off, leaving relatives without any means of receiving updates. Dozens of patients were also taken to the provincial capital Taiyuan by train.

A few were lucky enough to have spoken to their loved ones.

"I was so happy when I heard his voice. But I never thought he\’d actually died," Lu Huidong, 28, told AFP outside a hospital in the nearby city of Hejin, where his 22-year-old brother was being treated after his ordeal.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have urged all-out efforts to save the men still trapped in the pit, which flooded on March 28 during construction work.

Most of the survivors were said to be in a stable condition, but 26 were described as being in "relatively serious" condition after their ordeal, Xinhua news agency quoted rescue teams and doctors as saying.

"After a long time in the water, many of the survivors have partially ulcerated skin," one doctor was quoted in the China Daily as saying.

The men were also reportedly suffering from severe dehydration and malnutrition.

One survivor told his physician that he stayed alive for three nights by strapping himself to the shaft wall with his belt, as he feared drowning. On the fourth day, he was able to climb into a mining cart with eight other men.

The accident occurred when workers apparently dug into an older adjacent mine that had been shut down and filled with water, a practice used to stabilise the geology in abandoned collieries, press reports have said.

The national work safety watchdog blamed the accident on the owner, the Huajin Coking Coal Company, which failed to heed repeated warnings that water was building up days before the disaster.

Safety is often ignored in China\’s collieries in the quest for quick profits and to meet surging coal demand – the source of about 70 percent of the country\’s energy.

Amid anger over mounting mining deaths, China in recent years touted a drive to shut unsafe mines that has closed at least 12,000, many of them in Shanxi.

However, deadly mining disasters have remained a near-weekly occurrence in the country.

The safety campaign has targeted mostly smaller, often illegal pits, in the belief that larger, state-owned mines were safer. But the Wangjialing disaster has shown that even state-run facilities can turn into death traps.


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