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Miner Miracle Needed, Rescuers Hopeful
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More than 180 trapped miners in China have slim hopes of survival as the shafts they were working in are awash with the raging waters from a broken levee.

Officials said yesterday operations in other coal mines in Shandong Province had been halted. Rescuers have not given up hope.

They managed to repair the breach and get pumps going to empty the shafts yesterday but there was no indication whether the miners are still alive or how long it will take to pump the water out.

"We must increase the volume and the speed of water removal to create the conditions for rescue," said Zhang Dekuan, the Shandong provincial government spokesman.

Zhang said that as of Saturday, officials had estimated that the water in the 860-meter-deep mine where 172 workers are trapped is 20 meters deep, but this has since increased at least fourfold.

The miners have been isolated since Friday afternoon when a dike on the Wenhe River burst, sending water rushing into the Huayuan Mining Co mine, stranding 172.

Nine more miners were trapped in a nearby mine shaft.

Despite the length of time the miners have been trapped, Zhang said: "There is some hope and we will exert 100 percent ... no, 1,000 percent ... effort to carry out the search and rescue."

According to the State Administration of Work Safety, two water pumps with a capacity of 1,000 cubic meters per hour are on the way.

Four high-powered water pumps from Shandong's neighboring Hebei and Henan provinces have been sent to the coal mine.

A set of drilling equipment from the Shengli oil field, a major producer in Shandong, has been installed at the coal mine, ready to punch a hole into the flooded shaft.

Two water pumps have already started working, pumping out 400 cubic meters per hour.

The total draining capacity will reach 5,000 cubic meters per hour after all the water pumps are put into operation by today, a rescue official said.

By 6 PM yesterday, the water level in the flooded shaft dropped 5.5 meters from nearly 90 meters to 83 meters. The level in the shaft will not rise again, the official said.

More than 2,000 People's Liberation Army troops, police and miners blocked the levee breach on the Wenhe River at 3:38 AM yesterday.

A total of 756 miners were working underground at the time of the flooding. Most of them escaped.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao late on Saturday ordered an all-out effort in the rescue work.

Most of the trapped workers are from rural areas in Tai'an City and surrounding areas, said Wang Junmin, vice governor of Shandong. Dozens of family members of the trapped miners have arrived at the coal mine. They are waiting near the accident site for latest information about the rescue work.

The Shandong provincial government has allocated 10 million yuan (US$1.3 million) for the effort.

The rescue headquarters ordered all coal mines near the banks of the Wenhe River to stop production and evacuate all miners. Residents in the low-lying areas downstream were also told to get prepared to evacuate.

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, is at the site overseeing rescue efforts.

He ordered a speed-up of water-pumping operations and to "try every means to rescue the trapped miners."

In a separate accident in Xintai, nine people were trapped in the Minggong coal mine after it was flooded about 8 PM on Friday because of the rainstorm.

(Shanghai Daily August 20, 2007)

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