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Trapped Miners in Shanxi 'Could Still Be Alive'
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The fate of the 57 miners trapped in a flooded colliery in north China's Shanxi Province is still not known, a senior work safety official said yesterday.

Despite nearly a week passing since the flood that trapped the coal miners, "It is still difficult to predict whether they are alive or dead," said Peng Yujing, the official in charge of policy and regulation for the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) at the mine.

More than 100 miners were working in the Xinjing Coal Mine in Zuoyun County on May 18, when sudden floods filled the tunnels. Fifty-seven miners were trapped, while 47 were narrowly able to escape.

There are now six pumps at the site draining a total of 8,000 cubic metres of water every hour, said Peng.

By yesterday afternoon about 11,000 cubic metres had been pumped out, lowering the water level in the pit by 50 centimetres.

However the drainage process has not been going smoothly due to the "very complicated" geological situation in the mine and the high acidity of the flood water which threatens to erode the pipelines, said Peng.

Nine managers, including mine owner Li Fuyuan, contractor Wang Sheng and the mine's legal representative Lan Renhe have been arrested by local police for attempting to cover up the accident.

Managers first reported that only five people had died in the flood, only admitting the true number trapped after investigators flew to the scene.

Meanwhile local town leaders have suspended their normal work while the investigation into the disaster continues.

The local government has also frozen 11 account numbers in seven banks connected to the mine, holding funds of about 8 million yuan (nearly US$1 million), said Peng.

He added that more than 180 family members of 54 of the missing miners had travelled from 10 provinces to reach the scene of the disaster.

Initial investigations showed the production output of the mine had far surpassed the authorized level.

Li Yizhong, head of SAWS, earlier revealed that the colliery was only licensed to mine 90,000 tons of coal a year, but production between March 2 and May 18 alone reached 130,000 tons.

He has urged investigators to broaden their probe into possible official corruption that may have allowed the mine to overproduce.

He also demanded an investigation into local officials who could have helped in the initial attempts to cover up the extent of the disaster.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Henan Province eight people were killed and one injured in a gas explosion at an illegal coal mine on Monday night, according to the provincial work safety bureau.

The blast occurred in the village of Huaipashu in Mianchi County, just hours after the mine had secretly re-opened after being shut in a government safety crackdown.

(China Daily May 25, 2006)

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