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Cause of Mine Floods Yet to Be Determined
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The government has yet to launch an investigation into the flooding that has left 181 people trapped in two mines located in Shandong Province since Friday. Rescue efforts have first priority, a safety official said yesterday.


"The State Council has yet to set up an investigation team," Huang Yi, spokesman of the State Administration of Work Safety, said. "So we have not been able to determine the cause of the accident."


However, Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju told a press conference in Beijing yesterday that a preliminary analysis by experts had shown that the flooding was a "natural disaster".


This decision is significant. Relatives of people killed in mining accidents can receive up to 200,000 yuan in compensation but the country has no compensation system for victims of natural disasters.


However, in an exclusive interview with the Xinhua News Agency earlier yesterday, Huang criticized media reports that labeled the flooding due to either a natural disaster or human error. He said that the work safety administration had not made any such statements.


"The top priority at the moment is to speed up the rescue work and do whatever we can for those trapped," he said.


Rescuers began their fifth day at the collieries yesterday. On Friday afternoon, floodwater swept through a 65-m wide breach in the Wenhe River levee, inundating the Huayuan and Minggong mines.


By 6 PM yesterday, the water level at Huayuan Mine where 172 miners are trapped had fallen to 66.59 m. Rescuers were still 96 m from where some of the workers are believed to be trapped.


An additional pump went into operation at about midday yesterday, increasing the drainage capacity to more than 1,500 cu m per hour.


Eighty-five relatives of the trapped miners have fallen sick from grief. They are receiving treatment in the hospital, Huang Longhua, an official with the rescue headquarters tasked with consoling families of the victims, stated.


The government has dispatched 134 medical workers to take care of the sick relatives, he said, adding that all are in stable condition.


Managers at the Huayuan Mine have also sent 545 employees to console the families of the trapped miners.


Water resources specialists have blamed the disaster largely on heavy rain and inadequate flood-prevention facilities.


Experts said on Tuesday that hope for the miners was dimming. About 100 days is needed to drain the water if 5,000 cu m were pumped out every hour.


(Xinhua News Agency August 23, 2007)

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