XIANGNING, China (Reuters) - At least 115 miners were pulled alive from a flooded coal mine in north China after being trapped for over a week, eating bark to survive, prompting jubilant officials to hail their survival a miracle.
Officials said 153 miners were trapped in the unfinished Wangjialing mine in Xiangning, Shanxi province, after water gushed into the shafts last Sunday.
The survivors were pulled out late on Sunday night and throughout Monday. Thirty-eight miners were still missing.
“It is a miracle,” said Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, waiting at the entrance of the pit, was quoted by the Xinhua news agency as saying.
“The trapped miners stayed so unwaveringly determined down the mine shaft, passing through eight days and eight nights to live.”
Survivors were brought out from a platform, where rescuers had drilled a vertical hole last week. The hole ensured oxygen in the water-flooded pit while rescuers sent down bags of glucose.
The workers also survived by eating bark from pine wood used in building the mines, Chinese television said.
It was rare good news in China’s perilous coal-mining industry, the deadliest in the world with thousands killed every year in floods, explosions, collapses and other accidents. Shanxi province is the heartland of that industry.
Workers are tempted into the mines by wages that can be much higher than for many other jobs open to blue-collar workers and rural migrants.
One of the surviving miners insisted on borrowing a cell phone from a doctor to call his family in central China’s rural Henan province.
“I’m good. How are you and the kid?” he asked his wife, according to a report on the website of the People’s Daily newspaper.
Some miners used their lamps to guide rescuers to them through the tunnels. They took turns waving the lamps.
The survivors were brought out on stretchers to rapturous cheering and clapping from scores of rescue workers who had toiled day and night.
Many of the first nine miners rescued suffered cold and ulcers, and some suffered heart muscle damage, the China News Service reported.
Over the weekend, China was on public holiday for the traditional “tomb sweeping” festival, when people mourn dead kin. The spectacle of the rescue has captured nationwide interest and prompted comment from top leaders.
“Strive will all your might and make each second count, doing everything possible to rescue the workers who are trapped,” President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao said in a message issued by the Xinhua news agency.
Thousands of anxious family members and onlookers stood along the road, bursting into cheers and applause when ambulances carrying the men passed by. Residents converged on a hospital treating survivors, offering gifts of milk and other food.
“I would be more than happy to see whoever is brought out of the mine, even if it’s not my father,” said one young man.
The government had mobilized thousands of rescue workers to pump out water and search for the miners, but hopes of anyone emerging alive appeared to dim until rescuers heard knocking on a mine pipe on Friday.
After frantic pumping, the water level dropped low enough for rescue workers to enter the shaft.
The rescued survivors were weak but lucid and able to speak despite the ordeal, identifying themselves to doctors, the semi-official China News Service reported.
But not all of China’s miners are lucky.
In Henan province in the country’s center, the number of dead from a coal mine blast last week rose to 28, with another 16 still trapped underground, possibly dead, Xinhua reported.
Officials said the Henan mine was operating illegally, after it defied an order to shut down after a gas outburst last year.
Strong demand for energy and lax safety standards have made China’s mines often deadly places to work, despite a government drive to clamp down on small, unsafe operations where most accidents occur.
The number of people killed in Chinese coal mines dropped to 2,631 in 2009, an average of seven a day, from 3,215 in 2008, according to official statistics.
China has ordered the consolidation or takeover of many private mines. It says the shutdown of many of the most dangerous private operations has helped cut accidents.
But the deadliest accidents are not limited to private firms. The Wangjialing mine was a project belonging to a joint venture between China National Coal Group and Shanxi Coking Coal Group, two of China’s larger state-owned firms.
Writing by Chris Buckley and Jacqueline Wong; Editing by Ron Popeski