XIANGNING, China - More than 100 Chinese miners were pulled
out alive Monday after being trapped for over a week in a flooded
coal mine, where some ate sawdust and strapped themselves to the
shafts' walls with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept.
Rescued miners wrapped in blankets, some with their
light-sensitive eyes covered but their feet bare, were hurried to
waiting ambulances that sped wailing to nearby hospitals. One
clapped on his stretcher and reached out his blackened hands to
grasp those of rescuers on either side.
Rescuers in tears hugged each other at the scene, which was
broadcast live on national television. The sudden surge in rescues
was a rare piece of good news for China's mining industry, the
deadliest in the world. A rescue spokesman said 115 survivors had
been pulled out as of 4:30 p.m. local time (0830 GMT; 4:30 a.m.
"A miracle has finally happened," Liu Dezheng told reporters
Monday morning, after the first nine miners were taken out shortly
after midnight. "We believe that more miracles will happen."
Of the 153 initially trapped, there are still 38 miners in the
shaft. Rescuers expressed confidence Monday they could be saved but
did not say whether there had been any contact with them.
Rescuers have been pumping water out of the flooded mine since
last Sunday, when workers digging a tunnel broke into an old shaft
filled with water. The first signs of life from underground came
Friday, when tapping could be heard coming up the pipes. Divers
first headed into the tunnels over the weekend but found high,
murky water and emerged empty-handed.
As the water level continued to drop, rescuers with rubber rafts
squeezed through the narrow, low-ceilinged passages late Sunday and
pulled out the first nine survivors just after midnight. Eleven
hours later, the large wave of rescues began.
The miners had spent eight days underground and some were soaked
through. Some had hung from shaft walls by their belts for days to
avoid falling into the water when asleep. Later, they climbed into
a mining cart that floated by.
One miner described eating sawdust and tree bark and drinking
the murky water, the leader of one of the rescue teams, Chen
Yongheng, told a news conference Monday afternoon.
As the rafts approached the first trapped miners, one of them
asked, "Can you get me out of here?"
Liu Qiang, a medical officer involved in the rescue, said the
survivors had hypothermia, severe dehydration and skin infections
from being in the water so long. Some also were in shock and had
low blood pressure.
"This is probably one of the most amazing rescues in the
history of mining anywhere," said David Feickert, a coal mine
safety adviser to the Chinese government.
Chen said two or three of the underground mine platforms had not
yet been checked for survivors. Conditions remained complicated by
high murky water.
Families of the survivors were thrilled. "He called and managed
to say my sister's nickname, 'Xiaomi,' so we know it's really him
and that he's alive," said Long Liming, who said he received a
call around midday from his rescued brother-in-law Fu Ziyang.
A doctor then took the phone and said Fu had to rest, Long said.
"He was trapped underground for so long, so he's very weak. But we
are very relieved to know that he made it out safely."
Officials said most of the rescued miners were in stable
condition, but state television said seven were in serious
In a sign of government concerns over possible social unrest,
family members of the trapped miners said they have been kept under
close watch in hotels and are not allowed to leave unless
accompanied by minders.
The first rescue early Monday morning had seemed beyond hope for
days before crews finally heard tapping from deep underground
Rescuers then scrambled to understand the complicated situation
underground and send down packages of glucose, milk and letters of
encouragement. One read: "Dear fellow workers, the Party Central
Committee, the State Council and the whole nation have been
concerned for your safety all the time.... You must have confidence
and hold on to the last!"
Some workers appeared to be trapped on upper platforms of the
mine; their access to the entrance of the V-shaped shaft was
blocked by an area swamped with water.
"The situation underground was a bit more complicated than we
predicted," Luo Lin, the director of the State Administration for
Work Safety, told state television.
It was unclear Monday how deep into the mine the rescued workers
had been found.
"The miners in the lowest levels will be in the most extreme
danger," Feickert said. "Just think of a tall building, with
people on different floors, if that suddenly filled up with
China Central Television said one of the newly rescued workers
still was holding his mining lamp.
A preliminary investigation last week found that the mine's
managers ignored water leaks before the accident, the State
Administration of Work Safety said.
China's coal mines are the world's deadliest. Accidents killed
2,631 coal miners in China last year, down from 6,995 deaths in
2002, the most dangerous year on record, according to the State
Administration of Coal Mine Safety.