Rescuers at a colliery in China heard signs of life Friday from a flooded shaft where 153 workers have been trapped for five days, bringing a glimmer of hope in a dire week for the nation’s mining sector.
At least 3,000 rescuers have been racing against time to pump water out of the vast Wangjialing coal mine and reach the missing in the northern province of Shanxi as hopes had faded for their survival after the flood on Sunday.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, rescuers heard a repeated tapping sound coming up a pipe and then heard some shouting.
Authorities had maintained faint hope that some workers may have survived if they were working on platforms above danger levels, and the latest news from the mine indicated this might have been the case.
Rescuers had inserted a pipe into the shaft as part of the rescue effort. When they took it out, an iron wire had been attached to it, apparently by one of the trapped, Xinhua quoted rescue official Pan Zengwu as saying.
They were preparing to send a bucket down the narrow hole with food provisions and communication equipment, state television said.
The new update brings a rare piece of good news for the families of the missing, in what has been a disastrous week for China’s notoriously dangerous mining sector.
Altogether, nearly 30 people have died and almost 200 are missing after five separate coal mining accidents in China in as many days.
Workers’ safety is often ignored in China’s collieries in the quest for quick profits and the drive to meet surging demand for coal — the source of about 70 percent of the country’s energy.
In the latest incident, a fire in a coal mine in the northern province of Shaanxi killed nine people Thursday.
In the central province of Henan, a huge explosion at a coal mine that authorities said had been operating illegally killed at least 20 people on Wednesday.
Another 24 people were believed to be trapped underground in the mine. The boss had fled, prompting a huge manhunt by local police, state media said.
The blast was so powerful that several buildings near the mine shaft were flattened, with bits of clothes hanging from the trees, the official China Daily reported.
In the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, a flood had trapped five people at a colliery. And on the other side of the country, in the far-western region of Xinjiang, 10 were missing after a mine collapse.
If the workers in Shanxi are not saved, that accident will be the deadliest in China’s coal mines in more than two years.
According to official statistics, 2,631 coal miners were killed last year in China — or about seven a day — down by 584 from 2008.
China has made efforts to improve safety standards in mines, levying heavy fines and implementing region-wide mining shut-downs following serious accidents.
But the action has resulted in the under-reporting of accidents, labour rights groups maintain. And deadly accidents still occur in big, state-owned collieries, such as the one in Shanxi where the 153 workers are trapped.