Divers at flooded Chinese coal mine where 153 workers are trapped say situation difficult

By Cara Anna, AP
Saturday, April 3, 2010

Divers enter Chinese mine where 153 are trapped

XIANGNING, China — The first rescuers and divers who entered a flooded Chinese mine where 153 workers have been trapped for almost a week returned within hours, calling the situation underground “very difficult.”

No further signs of life were heard after tapping was heard Friday.

The divers who entered the mine Saturday afternoon said black, murky water complicated efforts to reach sites where rescuers hope miners have survived, state-run China Central Television reported.

The next step in the rescue plan wasn’t expected until Sunday, said Wen Changjin, an official with the news center set up at the mine in the northern province of Shanxi.

At the Wangjialing mine, 3,000 people were working nonstop to pump out water that poured in when miners digging tunnels broke into an abandoned shaft on March 28.

Wen said the water level underground had dropped by about 15 feet (5 meters) as of noon Saturday.

Experts said the work to reach the miners could last days and their survival depended on decent air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Television footage on Friday afternoon showed rescuers tapping on pipes with a wrench, then cheering and jumping after hearing a response — the first sign of life since the mine flooded. They lowered pens and paper, along with packs containing glucose and milk, down metal pipes into the mine.

But nothing more has been heard, Wen said.

The 153 workers were believed to be trapped on nine platforms in the mine, which was flooded with equal to more than 55 Olympic swimming pools, state television has reported.

Rescuers said four platforms were not totally submerged, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.

A preliminary investigation found that the mine’s managers ignored water leaks from the abandoned mine 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.

Associated Press writer Cara Anna and researchers Yu Bing and Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.

will not be displayed