| Rescuers try to reach 181 Chinese miners |
19 Aug 2007
|Angry relatives protested and demanded answers Sunday as hopes slipped for 181 miners trapped underground more than 48 hours after a collapsed dike in eastern China flooded two coal mines.|
Water was being pumped out of the mines, the head of China's work safety body said.
Li Yizhong also said the breach in the dike in Shandong province had been closed, although some water was still seeping through.
"The installation of pump equipment and the pumping of water in the shafts has already started," Li, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
There was no indication whether the miners were still alive or how long it would take to pump the water out.
They have been trapped since Friday afternoon when the Wen river burst a dike, sending water pouring into the Huayuan Mining Co. mine, stranding 172 miners in a shaft.
Nine more miners were trapped when water poured into a nearby mine shaft. Both are about 370 miles southeast of Beijing.
Officials blocked access to the mine, but upset family members could be seen arriving at the gates to a compound that appeared to house offices of the company.
At one gate, about 30 relatives and an equal number of bystanders yelled at guards and officials for information. Several relatives were roughed up and one man showed his torn shirt.
One woman whose husband was trapped, Ren Hua, said she was called Friday and told there was no problem and that water was being pumped out of the mine.
But when she arrived Saturday with her 11-year-old son she found the pumping had not started.
"We want to know how much work has been done and whether they are drawing off the water," she said, crying.
Others also complained of a lack of information, saying no lists of trapped miners had been given out.
"No one has said anything about what is happening," said Li Chuanmei, whose 42-year-old brother was missing.
"They have not said if there are any survivors. They are treating these people like they are sacrificial goods. You would think an official would come out to tell us what is going on, whether there are any signs of life, whether they are dead or live," she said.
Li and others gathered under a billboard explaining Huayuan's "safety ideals." She said every year during the rainy season there is flooding in the mine, and officials did not seem to be prepared this year.
She said the trapped miners could be as far as 2,000 feet down the mine shaft.
The miners make about $106 a month, slightly less than the average urban salary in China but 2 1/2 times the average rural one.
Shao Linnan, who described himself as an ordinary miner, said he was waiting because friends were trapped.
"We sympathize with these families but there is nothing we can do," he said, pointing at the groups of crying relatives.
Zhang Qingmei, who works for a mining supply company, said he saw no rescue work being done when he dropped off plastic piping parts on Saturday, although that may have been because officials had to wait first for the dike breach to be closed.
Zhang, a member of the Communist Party whose brother-in-law was trapped, said, "The officials say 'safety first, production second,' but they haven't followed those instructions."
According to a government Web site, the mine was previously called the Xinwen Mining Group Zhangzhuang Coal Mine, but underwent a reorganization in March 2004 when it went bankrupt.
The State Administration of Work Safety Web site said it had become a shareholding enterprise, but did not say who owned the shares or managed the mine.
An accountant who worked for the Xinwen company but was fired in 2003 said there was a lot of resentment toward the company even before the accident because about 30 percent of the work force was fired that year before it was reorganized.
The accountant, who refused to give his name, also said output had fallen from about 1 million tons a year in the late 1980s to between 600,000 and 700,000 tons now.
Some of the relatives said the company's financial troubles meant it had cut corners on safety.
China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with thousands of fatalities a year in fires, floods and other disasters. Many are blamed on managers who disregard safety rules.
The government has promised for years to improve mine safety, but China depends on coal for most of its electric power, and the country's economic boom has created voracious demand. Production has more than doubled since 2000.
China's deadliest reported coal mine disaster since the 1949 Communist revolution was an explosion that killed 214 miners on Feb. 14, 2005, in the Sunjiawan mine in Liaoning province.