Hopes of saving 102 miners all but gone

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2005, 12:00am

Guangdong pitmen trapped 340 metres under water, and pumps still on the way

Hopes for the survival of the 102 men trapped in a coal mine in Guangdong were 'extremely slim' last night, as floodwater continued to rise and rescue efforts were hampered by a lack of equipment.

Water was flooding the mine at a rate of 50cm per hour and was now just 60 metres below the entrance - more than 340 metres above where the miners are trapped, a senior engineer of the state Administration of Work Safety Supervision told China News Service.

'The chances of survival are extremely slim,' he said.

Early last night, Guangdong was still awaiting pumping equipment from neighbouring Jiangxi province , the agency said. Inadequate electricity supplies to the area were also hindering the rescue operation.

Outside the Daxing Colliery, shocked and grieving relatives awaited news of the trapped miners.

Only four miners escaped the mine in Xingning, Meizhou, when it flooded at 1pm on Sunday and another was rescued. One miner was treated for injuries.

All but 20 of the trapped miners are migrant workers from Jiangxi and Hunan provinces. They earn 50 yuan a day.

'We heard a big bang about a week before the accident,' one miner said. 'Some suspected it was a cave-in. We reported it to the government and they sent people to investigate. But before the investigation was completed, the accident happened.'

A former manager of the mine, surnamed Chen, said miners had been digging above an underground river for the past few decades, but in recent years they had begun to dig around it to exploit the coal reserves.

Relatives of the miners rushed to the site after learning of the accident, but became increasingly desperate last night as the rescue efforts appeared to fail.

'We have four mouths to feed and my daughter is crippled. Her father is our bread-winner, now I have no idea how can we get by,' said the wife of Shi Yuanqing, one of the lost miners.

A man from a neighbouring city, whose brother was trapped below, said: 'We are farmers. But we can't support ourselves by farming alone. My brother has to go out to work to make a living. We never thought this would happen.'

Authorities closed all the mines in the city after the accident. The Daxing Colliery is privately owned. The owner could not be found after the accident, local residents said.

Workers said the authorities had carried out regular safety checks.

'We are shocked by the accident because the mine has passed recent safety inspections,' one miner said.

President Hu Jintao , Premier Wen Jiabao and other top leaders urged local officials to 'take substantial steps and spare no effort' to save the men.

Top Guangdong officials, including party secretary Zhang Dejiang and Governor Huang Huahua , arrived last night to direct the rescue effort.

Mining is the lifeblood of the local economy. Meizhou supplies coal to workshops and power plants in Shenzhen. The closure of the mines has pushed coal prices from 320 yuan to 350 yuan per tonne.

Meanwhile, a gas blast at a coal mine in Guizhou province killed at least 14 miners. Twenty-three miners escaped after the blast but two were still missing, Xinhua reported. The explosion occurred at about 3am in the Wanzi Coal Mine in Liupanshui .

Additional reporting by Alice Yan