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Rescuers Feed Trapped Miners Milk Through Air Pipe
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Rescuers have poured hundreds of liters of milk into a ventilation pipe to feed 69 miners who have been trapped in a flooded central China coal pit for three days.

The miners used their helmets to catch the milk, their only food since they were trapped in the flooded shaft at Zhijian colliery, in Shanxian county, Henan Province, early on Sunday.

"They told me that they felt much better after drinking the milk," said Shi Jichun, Vice Governor of Henan Province, after talking by phone with the miners.

Rescuers poured 382 liters of milk through the 800-meter ventilation pipe at around 9:00 PM on Monday, followed by another 167 liters on Tuesday morning.

They ruled out solid food for fear of blocking the pipe.

"The milk will help the miners keep their strength up, which is comforting," Shi said.

Rescuers have pumped about 2,000 cubic meters of water out of the mine and cleared about 100 cubic meters of mud from the shaft.

"The rescue operation is now going smoothly," said Shi. But he added, "Underground conditions are complicated. People at headquarters have worked out a contingent emergency plan."

A cave-in under the mine at approximately 3 PM on Tuesday cut off telephone contact between the ground crew and the trapped miners. Communications workers managed to enter the shaft and repaired the telephone line, resuming contact after a hiatus of two hours.

"We are removing mud and pumping out water as quickly and effectively as possible," Henan Governor Li Chengyu told the miners by phone on Tuesday.

An estimated 4,000 cubic meters of water poured into the shaft when a flood triggered by rainstorms swamped the mine at 8:40 AM on Sunday.

The rescue team has commandeered six more pumps speed up the pumping process.

Altogether 102 miners were working in the pit when the mineshaft flooded. Only 33 managed to escape.

Hundreds of rescue workers, including armed police, are struggling to prevent more water from entering the shaft, clearing away the silt, and providing ventilation and oxygen to the trapped miners.

Li Yizhong, Chief of the State Administration of Work Safety, and Zhao Tiechui, Chief of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, are also at the coal mine overseeing rescue efforts.

Li asked the local public security department to cooperate with the mine managers in clearing away underground explosives to prevent new accidents.

The state-owned mine was established in 1958. Designed to produce 210,000 tons a year, its actual annual output is currently 300,000 tons.

(Xinhua News Agency August 1, 2007)

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