China rescuers race to save miners still trapped

Updated: 2010-04-06 14:03
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XIANGNING - Efforts to reach 33 Chinese miners still trapped in a flooded coal pit forged ahead Tuesday, boosted by the rescue of 115 of their fellow workers who were pulled out a day earlier after more than a week underground.

Authorities found five bodies in the mine in northern China's Shanxi province on Tuesday, state television reported, but expressed confidence that the remaining miners could be saved.

China rescuers race to save miners still trapped
Rescuers carry a survivor out of Wangjialing Coal Mine in Shanxi province on Monday. Rescuers saved 115 workers who were trapped in the flooded mine for more than a week. Thirty-eight workers remain underground. [Xinhua] 

Some of those rescued had survived for eight days by eating sawdust and strapping themselves to the walls of the shafts with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept.

The survivors were hustled out of the mine wrapped in blankets, some with their light-sensitive eyes covered, and hurried to waiting ambulances. One clapped on his stretcher and reached out his blackened hands to grasp those of rescuers on either side.

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"A miracle has finally happened," Liu Dezheng told reporters after the first nine miners were taken out early Monday morning. "We believe that more miracles will happen."

A rescue spokesman said 115 survivors were pulled out Monday, but they continued looking for the others still trapped in the mine that flooded March 28 when workers digging a tunnel broke into an old shaft filled with water.

The situation underground seemed to have worsened, with gas levels in the mine reaching dangerous levels, China Central Television said.

Sixty of the rescued workers were being taken Tuesday to hospitals in the nearest big city, Taiyuan, aboard a specially chartered train so they could receive better medical care, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Each one would be accompanied by two medical workers.

China rescuers race to save miners still trapped
A worker is sent to the hospital after being rescued early on Monday morning. [LU XIAOYU / XINHUA] 

Liu Qiang, leader of the rescue effort's medical team, described the rescued miners as very weak, dehydrated, malnourished and with unstable vital signs. While 26 were more seriously ill than the others, none were in critical condition.

The first signs of life from underground came 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, low-ceilinged passages late Sunday and pulled out the first nine survivors just after midnight. Eleven hours later, the large wave of rescues began.

The miners spent eight days underground and some were soaked through. Some had hung from shaft walls by their belts for days to avoid falling into the water when asleep. Later, they climbed into a mining cart that floated by.

One miner described eating sawdust and tree bark and drinking the murky water, the leader of one of the rescue teams, Chen Yongsheng, told a news conference.

"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.

Chen said two or three of the underground mine platforms had not yet been checked for survivors.

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

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 Tuesday after 106 hours underground.