Surprise breakthrough saves trapped miners

By ZHAO RUIXUE in Jinan | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-01-27 09:04
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A miner is rescued on Sunday, 14 days after two explosions rocked the gold mine in Qixia, Shandong province. [Photo/Xinhua]

On Sunday morning, rescue workers unexpectedly reached a large cavity 14 days after two explosions trapped 22 workers underground at a gold mine under construction in Qixia, Shandong province.

The breakthrough proved crucial in efforts that saved 11 of the stricken miners.

The cavity was reached after two weeks of continuous attempts to clear debris from the main shaft at the mine-a major route to lift the miners to the surface.

Accessing the cavity accelerated work to save the men, who were trapped more than 600 meters underground after the explosions on Jan 10.

Xiao Wenru, chief engineer at the Ministry of Emergency Management's mine rescue center, said on Sunday, "We had predicted that it could take at least another 15 days to clear heavy obstacles from the shaft."

Around 11 am on Sunday, rescuers and ambulances stood by at the entrance to the shaft. All eyes were on cables hauling a container bucket up from a depth of more than 500 meters.

Finally, the bucket reached the surface, carrying two rescuers and one of the trapped workers. The miner, who was extremely weak, was carried to an ambulance and taken to the hospital.

Feng Anji, one of the rescuers who went down the shaft, said: "We found the miner lying curled up. He could talk, but was too weak to move."

Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday that the worker used his cap for 14 days to scoop up underground water.

Another 10 workers were lifted to safety within two hours of the first being found, all of them blindfolded to avoid bright sunlight.

One of these workers was injured and had to be carried to an ambulance. The remaining nine walked to ambulances with assistance.

Rescuers continued to search for the other trapped workers, before finding nine bodies. They are still trying to locate the remaining employee.

The rescuers searched an area above the mine's No 6 section, which is 698 meters from the entrance.

Chen Fei, the mayor of Yantai, which administers Qixia, said at a news conference on Monday that rescuers working below this section faced huge difficulties because of the large amount of water in that area of the mine.

"We won't stop searching until we find him," Chen said.

At the news conference, officials stood in silent tribute to those who died in the blasts.

As of Tuesday, 10 workers were confirmed to have died, 11 were alive and the fate of the other remained unknown.

Chen Yumin, leader of the rescue team, said an inspection of the area where the nine bodies were found showed the workers died in a second explosion while trying to climb to safety after the first.

The initial blast, which occurred around 1:15 pm on Jan 10 at a depth of 240 meters, caused a strong tremor and shattered the windows of a room at the mine entrance.

Thick smoke billowed from the mine, where 13 of the employees were working in one section at a depth of 698 meters from the shaft entrance, and nine at a depth of 648 meters.

The second explosion occurred around 2:45 pm, Chen Yumin said.

The blasts damaged the mine's communications system, meaning rescuers were initially unable to tell whether the miners were still alive.

The rescue headquarters said everything was being done to save the trapped workers.

Rescue forces, including teams from Beijing and the provinces of Henan and Anhui, gathered at the mine.

By Tuesday more than 600 rescue workers and related personnel from 17 teams, along with firefighters, were at the site, according to the headquarters.

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