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Updated: April 6, 2010 15:11 IST

Rescuers can’t reach last 33 trapped in China mine

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A coal miner rescued from the Wangjialing Coal Mine in Xiangning county recuperates in a hospital in Hejin, China, on Tuesday. Photo: AP.
A coal miner rescued from the Wangjialing Coal Mine in Xiangning county recuperates in a hospital in Hejin, China, on Tuesday. Photo: AP.

Floodwaters kept rescuers from reaching 33 miners still trapped in a Chinese coal pit on Tuesday, and the recovery of five bodies dimmed hopes of another miracle a day after 115 survivors were pulled out after more than a week underground.

The trapped workers were in three different spots in the mining shafts that were so far inaccessible because of the flooding, China Central Television reported. Gas in the mine was also rising to dangerous levels as rescue work stretched into its 10th day.

The grim outlook came after a dramatic breakthrough in the rescue effort on Monday. The 115 rescued miners had survived for eight days underground by eating sawdust and strapping themselves to the walls of the shafts with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept. Later, they climbed into a mining cart that floated by.

It was a rare piece of good news for China’s mining industry, the deadliest in the world, and the dramatic rescue on Monday was broadcast live on national television.

Five bodies were removed from the mine on Monday night, the official Xinhua News Agency said on Tuesday, but rescue efforts were continuing.

A total of 153 miners had been trapped since March 28 when workers digging tunnels broke into a water-filled abandoned shaft. The first signs of life from underground came on Friday, when tapping could be heard coming up the pipes. Divers first headed into the tunnels over the weekend but found high, murky water and emerged empty-handed.

As the water level continued to drop, rescuers with rubber rafts squeezed through the narrow passages late Sunday and pulled out the first nine survivors just after midnight. Eleven hours later, the large wave of rescues began.

The rescued workers were being treated at hospitals under tight security. At the Hejin City Hospital not far from the mine, a dozen police guarded the main entrance. The doors to the ward where they were being treated were padlocked and the elevator watched by paramilitary police.

Many survivors were still too weak to talk at length, said Dr. Zhang Jianying at Employees’ Hospital of the Shanxi Aluminum Factory, where miners were also being treated. Their eyes were still covered to protect them from the light and so far relatives were not permitted to visit.

“The most important thing for them right now is to rest,” he said.

Sixty of the rescued workers were taken on Tuesday to hospitals in the nearest big city, Taiyuan, aboard a specially chartered train so they could receive better medical care, state media said.

The rescues on Monday ended days of anxiety for many families, who had rushed to the mine after hearing of the flood.

“For the past eight days, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I was so worried. I thought there was no hope because they were stuck in there for such a long time,” said Tang Aiming, 48, also a miner, whose brothers Aijun, 39, and Aichun, 46, were pulled out on Monday.

“We didn’t believe they were all right at first until we heard Aijun’s voice on the phone,” Tang said. “The first thing he said was: ‘I am safe now. It’s all right.”

A preliminary investigation last week found the mine’s managers ignored water leaks before the accident, the State Administration of Work Safety said.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest. Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in China last year, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record, according to the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.

In other good news, state media reported that five coal miners trapped in a shaft in Qitaihe city Heilongjiang province in the northeast were rescued on Tuesday after 106 hours underground.

Keywords: coal mine tragedy

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