CHINA / Regional

Mine pumps start but hope is slim
(Shanghai Daily/AP)
Updated: 2006-05-24 08:17

The pumps finally started at the flooded Xinjing Coal Mine in north China yesterday, but the wailing of the women at the pit head left little doubt that hopes for the 57 men trapped below are nearly gone.

After five days without word, many of the women are convinced their husbands are dead.

Xinhua news agency said it could take days or weeks to pump out the 200,000 cubic meters of water believed to be in the mine.

The pumps were turned on yesterday morning after a long delay because of technical hitches and lack of power.

"If they'd started pumping in the first 24 hours there would have been a chance to save them," said Zhang Qiongying, standing with her husband's sister outside the concrete huts where the miners live.

She said she was angry that no one seemed to be taking care of the families or taking responsibility for the accident.

"How could you go so soon," she cried, clutching two photos of her 31-year-old husband, Tang Daoliang. She said she was sure he was dead.

The Xinjing mine, about 325 kilometers west of Beijing, flooded on Thursday after miners dug beyond its assigned area and broke into an abandoned adjacent mine.

The mine owner fled, but manager Li Fuyuan and at least eight other officials have been detained for questioning, state media reported.

Authorities accused them of ignoring reports of leaking water before the flood and trying to hide the number of missing miners.

Miners who wouldn't give their names said accidents were frequent and complained that managers pressured them to dig faster or be fired.

Tang Xufang, wife of a missing miner, brought his clothes from a dormitory, piled them up and set them on fire, an old Chinese tradition that some believe allows their dead loved ones to use the articles in the afterlife.

Tang said she last spoke with her husband, Xiao Guangshun, a day before the accident. He called her at their Sichuan Province home to say he had wired her 1,000 yuan (US$125).

Zhang Qiongying said her husband started working at the mine only three months ago. They have an 8-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.

"Now the most important thing is to drain the mine and retrieve the body," she said. "We want to take him home to bury him so we can visit him and not leave him here in this watery grave."