Hopes Fade For Those Trapped in Flooded Coal Mine

Rescue workers prepare to pump water from the flooded mine-shaft at Daxing, Guangdong province. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG--While the official rescue effort still struggles to free miners trapped by floods in a southern China colliery, hopes are fading that anyone will emerge alive, a miner at the scene told RFA’s Mandarin service.

“They are still continuing,” an official surnamed Yang at the rescue coordination center for the disaster in Xingning city replied to a question on the status of the rescue effort. “There is still hope that someone has survived.”

He said rescue workers were continuing to pump floodwater out of a mineshaft at the Daxing Coal Mine, after 15-20 million cubic meters (530-706 million cubic feet) of water swept through it on Sunday afternoon.

But a Daxing miner at the scene of the disaster--where one body has already been recovered from the shaft--painted a very different picture from the one being given by the authorities, saying that the floodwater was still rising at a rate of 50 centimeters (19 inches) per hour. “There’s a huge volume of water,” said the miner, surnamed Huang.

‘No space’ for survivors

Asked if any miners were likely to have survived, he said: “It’s not likely at all. With the water rising, there’s no space for them.”

Huang said very few of his colleagues were likely to have any form of accident insurance to help compensate dependents, as specified by national industry regulations.

“I don’t know anything about that,” he said. “But most private companies don’t insure their workers.”

Just four miners underground at the time survived the accident, which is the latest in a long line of deadly coal-mine disasters in China.

The Guangdong provincial government has suspended Xingning city mayor Zeng Xianghai and Meizhou city mayor He Zhengba for ‘incompetence’ in their supervision of coal-mine production in the area under their jurisdiction, official Chinese media reported. Police have detained 11 others.

The owners of the privately-run colliery have fled the scene and left no records, which has hampered rescue and investigation work, Xinhua news agency said.

Mine owners flee investigators

Daxing miner Huang confirmed the report. “Some of those in charge at the mine have been arrested, but some have still not returned,” he told RFA reporter Gao Shan.

Four pumps were working round-the-clock and five high-power ones were to be added, Xinhua said.

"The tragedy was caused by mine-owners' greed for economic profits and malignant violation of safety rules," the agency quoted Li Yizhong, director of the National Bureau of Production Safety Supervision and Administration, as saying.

Li said the mine had no production licence, and had ignored a government order to suspend production following a flooding incident at a nearby mine on July 14.

Guangdong currently has more than 260 coal mines, mainly small ones, with a total annual output of 8.1 million tons of coal.

China's coal-mining industry is considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Chinese officials say roughly 7,000 workers are killed annually, but international rights groups say the number may be as high as 20,000.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Gao Shan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Produced in English for the Web by Luisetta Mudie.


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