More than 100 Chinese miners were pulled out alive on Monday after being trapped for more than a week in a flooded coal mine, sparking cheers among the hundreds of rescue workers who had raced to save them and almost given up hope.
A live state television broadcast counted off the number of survivors brought above ground — 114 as of 2.15 pm local time (11.45 am IST) — as miners wrapped in blankets were hurried to waiting ambulances that sped wailing to nearby hospitals.
Rescuers in tears hugged each other at the scene, which was broadcast on national television. The sudden surge in rescues was a rare piece of good news for China’s mining industry, the deadliest in the world.
“A miracle has finally happened,” a rescue headquarters spokesman, Liu Dezheng, told reporters Monday morning, after the first nine miners were taken out shortly after midnight. “We believe that more miracles will happen.”
The stream of survivors started about two hours later.
“This is probably one of the most amazing rescues in the history of mining anywhere,” said David Feickert, a coal mine safety adviser to the Chinese government.
The miners were in their eighth day underground when rescuers were finally able to reach them.
As the wave of rescues began, state television said rescuers were preparing to pull as many as 70 to 80 miners out of the mine, though conditions underground remained complicated by high murky water. A total of 153 workers had been trapped.
Families of the survivors were thrilled. “He called and managed to say my sister’s nickname, ‘Xiaomi,’ so we know it’s really him and that he’s alive,” said Long Liming, who said he received a call around midday from his rescued brother-in-law Fu Ziyang.
A doctor then took the phone and said Fu had to rest, Mr. Long said. “He was trapped underground for so long, so he’s very weak. But we are very relieved to know that he made it out safely.”
The first rescue early Monday morning had seemed beyond hope for days before crews finally heard tapping from deep underground Friday.
The miners had been trapped since March 28 when workers digging tunnels broke into a water-filled abandoned shaft. Rescuers then scrambled to understand the complicated situation underground. Some workers appeared to be trapped on upper platforms of the mine by a V-shaped shaft that was swamped with water.
The challenge has been to pump out enough water to even enter the mine safely. Divers who entered Saturday afternoon came back within a couple of hours, saying the black, murky water made reaching the platforms very difficult.
It was unclear on Monday how deep into the mine the rescued workers had been found.
“The miners in the lowest levels will be in the most extreme danger,” Mr. Feickert said. “Just think of a tall building, with people on different floors, if that suddenly filled up with water.”
Some of the soaked miners had hung from shaft walls by their belts for days to avoid falling into the water when asleep. Hundreds of rescuers were underground with hopes that glimpses of swinging lights and new tapping sounds meant even more survivors could be found.
Mr. Liu Dezheng said the first batch of nine rescued miners were in stable condition. The state-run Xinhua News Agency said all nine were conscious and could say their name and hometown, but their bodies had suffered from being soaked for so long. Television footage showed at least one miner was brought out barefoot.
Liu Qiang, a medical officer involved in the rescue, said the survivors had hypothermia, severe dehydration and skin infections from being in the water so long. Some also were in shock and had low blood pressure.
China Central Television said one of the newly rescued workers still was holding his mining lamp.