August 9, 2005

China says 123 miners now known trapped by flood

BEIJING (Reuters) - At least 123 miners are now known to
have been trapped deep underground in a flooded shaft in south
China, not 102 as first reported, and they have little chance
of survival, official media reported late on Tuesday.

"An additional 21 miners were added to the missing list
announced on Monday after the mine counted the number of miners
working underground today," Xinhua news agency quoted a senior
official in charge of rescue operations as saying.

"Currently, they are still trapped about 480 meters
underground," said You Ningfeng, vice governor of Guangdong
province. "The chance of survival for the trapped miners is
slim after being stranded for more than 55 hours," he added.

Despite the pessimism, Xinhua quoted Guangdong governor
Huang Huahua as pledging: "If there is a tiny hope, we will
spare no efforts to rescue the trapped miners."

As frantic rescue work continued at the Xingning pit,
China's top work safety official was quoted as saying that this
latest in a string of mining disasters was a prime example of
pit owners flouting safety laws to make money.

The mine was operating without a license and in violation
of local government orders to shut down for inspections after a
July flooding at another pit in Xingning, Xinhua said.

The July accident claimed 16 lives.

"This is a typical case in which mine owners make money,
miners lose their lives and the government pays the bill," Li
Yizhong, director of the State Administration for Work Safety,
was quoted as saying.

More than 60 managers of the mine fled after Sunday's
flooding and the Xingning government has called for them to
return to help with rescue efforts, Xinhua said.

China's mining industry is the deadliest in the world, with
accidents claiming 2,700 lives in the first half of 2005 alone.

One local Communist Party official estimated that the
volume of water in the shaft of the Daxing mine "almost equals
that of a medium-sized reservoir."

The source of the flood waters was still unknown, making it
impossible for rescuers to stop the flow and bring water levels

"I can't remember anything about the sudden flooding,"
survivor Zeng Huanbiao said from his hospital bed.

Xinhua said that four pumps were working round-the-clock
and five high-power ones were to be installed, but that even so
the rescue operation could take a long time.

Senior officials from the party's Central Commission for
Discipline Inspection had arrived at the scene to supervise
investigations along with provincial supervisors.

China has pledged some 3 billion yuan ($370 million) to
improve safety standards at mines in the face of strong demand
for coal, which accounts for around two-thirds of the country's
energy consumption.