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Little Hope Remains for 21 Missing Miners
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Families of 21 coal miners missing in an accident at an unlicensed shaft were facing up to the news Friday that their loved ones were unlikely to be found alive.

Two miners escaped from the Fuyuan Coal Mine in Yuncheng, north China's Shanxi Province, when water and gas flooded the shaft on May 4.

But provincial chiefs said there had been no contact with the missing miners since the accident and rising water levels have virtually snuffed out hopes they may have survived.

Safety officials were busy pumping out the water Friday -- which is as high as 40 meters in places -- as anger mounted over allegations of a cover-up the accident.

An official with the provincial coal mine safety supervision authorities told China Daily that they couldn't even be sure just how many miners are missing in the new mine at Yuncheng, located 500 kilometers south of provincial capital Taiyuan.

"We don't know the number of victims as the water level is till rising," said the official, who would only reveal his name was Chen.

"But the owner reported there was nobody in the flooded mine because three or four workers escaped when the water leak first occurred," Chen said.

Zhang Shunhe, the owner of Fuyuan Coal Mine, was unavailable for comment Friday.

But an official with the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety Supervision said nine workers died in the accident.

"Provincial safety authorities have reported the death toll twice on eighth and 12th respectively," said administration official Zhao Gejin.

Zhao said her administration received a report from local sources on May 8.

Provincial and local authorities are immediately ordered to start disaster relief and launch an investigation, she said.

Provincial safety official Chen said the 350-meter slope mine can only hold about 5,000 cubic meters of water but over the past 10 days about 20,000 cubic meters have been pumped out.

"We don't know where the water comes from; maybe it comes from the mines nearby or is underground water," said Chen.

The provincial government has ordered the local government of Yuncheng and safety supervision authorities to step up efforts in disaster relief and the probe into the causes of the accident.

China has closed down thousands of small coal mines in the past few years in order to regulate coal production and improve mining safety.

Small coal mines are usually run by private ventures or local government, and these mines are more likely to ignore production safety regulations.

(China Daily May 18, 2002)

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