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Rescuers in fading bid to save 31 from China mine

world Updated: Apr 07, 2010 18:36 IST

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Rescuers pumped water on Wednesday in a fading bid to find more survivors in a flooded mine in northern China where earlier 115 miners had been pulled to safety in dramatic rescues after being trapped for more than a week. A seventh body was recovered on Wednesday. Some 31 miners are believed trapped in two areas and there have been no further signs of life.

"Now we're racing against time and putting efforts in full swing to concentrate on these two areas," Liu Dezheng, the rescue headquarters' spokesman, told a news conference.

"There are 31 workers there, holding on, waiting for us to rescue them _ we must face the work ahead with this in mind," Liu said. With 5,000 rescuers on the mine site, pumping water out was the top priority.

"It's only after we've pumped water out and cleared a way through that we can go in. If we can't go in, we can't rescue them," he said. "At the moment we have not had any contact with them," he said of the trapped miners.

Liu said there was also the threat of dangerous gases seeping into the spaces underground that could sicken rescuers or cause an explosion.

The lowered hopes come after Monday's dramatic rescues at the Wangjialing mine in Shanxi province. The 115 miners survived for eight days underground by eating sawdust, tree bark, paper and even coal. Some strapped themselves to the walls of the shafts with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept.

A total of 153 miners had been trapped since March 28, when workers digging tunnels broke into a water-filled abandoned shaft. A preliminary investigation last week found the mine's managers ignored water leaks before the accident.

State media reported Wednesday none of the survivors were in serious condition, and that more of them were eating solid food. One of the miners, Su Zexi, told Central China Television that quick thinking by a team leader saved some of the miners. "Our team leader Wang Jiming realized that the tunnel had a dead end. When the water started to rise, he cracked the tunnel open, and the water flowed away through the tunnel," said Su from his hospital bed, with an oxygen line hooked up to his nose. "Then we got through and met another 50 miners from the other side. He and some other experienced older miners somehow found us a dry, warm place with enough air."

Wang Jiming told CCTV it was important to remain calm. "I am a communist party member, leading over 60 people. We found a warm place. I told them not to panic. When you panic, things will get worse," he said from his hospital bed.

The survivors have been hospitalized in the nearby city of Hejin under tight security, with even relatives being kept away from some of them.

The security meant Yuan Zhusheng, a 42-year-old house-builder from Hunan province, was forced to stand across the street from the Hejin City Hospital yelling his brother's name. Moments later his brother, in white and blue hospital clothes, appeared on a balcony. Yuan and his four friends cheered.

"I'm very excited to see him, because it is the first time since the flooding. ... I was so worried," said Yuan.

Yuan said he has no chance to speak with his 48-year-old brother as doctors told him his brother needed to rest.

Monday's rescues were rare good news for China's mining industry, the deadliest in the world, where accidents killed 2,631 coal miners last year. That's down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record.

In a further sign of the dangers, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday that the death toll from an explosion at an illegal coal mine in central Henan province last week had risen to 40 people from 19, with another six missing.