April 8, 2010 / 7:41 AM / 10 years ago

Death toll rises at flooded Chinese coal mine

BEIJING (Reuters) - The death toll at the flooded Wangjialing coal mine in China’s Shanxi province has risen to 12, while high water levels are hampering efforts to rescue those still trapped.

Miners prepare to go down the flooded Wangjialing Coal Mine, located across both Xiangning county and Hejin city, in Shanxi province April 6, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

So far, 115 miners have been rescued after spending a week trapped underground. Rescue work for the 26 miners still trapped was suspended on Thursday morning after the ceiling of a shaft began to leak, the Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

Rescue workers have been pumping water from the mine for more than a week, after workers constructing the mine breached a wall to a nearby flooded shaft. The mine is a key project backed by some of China’s top state-owned coal companies.

“Pumps are not effective as the submerged area is like a huge swamp. Oxygen in the mine is also low, although the gas level is safe,” Liu Dezheng, spokesman of the rescue headquarters, was cited by the official Xinhua news agency as saying.

Rescuers believed they were about 100 meters (yards) from the platforms where some miners may be. Marsh pumps had been introduced to accelerate the pumping work, Xinhua said.

Relatives of the miners have complained to Reuters that they had been unable to verify who has been rescued, who has died, or who remained trapped underground. The Beijing News said on Thursday that relatives were not allowed into the hospital where rescued miners were being treated.

A list of the 153 workers constructing the mine when it flooded was read out to media last week, but the local government has not released a printed list to media or relatives.

The disaster has once again highlighted the issue of mine safety in China, where more than 2,600 coal miners died last year in floods, cave-ins, explosions and gas leaks.

Chinese media said managers were rushing to meet a construction deadline and had ignored signs of leaking water at Wangjialing.

In the same week that 115 miners were pulled out of the Wangjialing mine after surviving by eating bark from wooden mine supports, 40 others were declared dead in a mine explosion in Yinchuan, Henan province.

China has attempted to reduce mine fatalities by closing smaller, unsafe mines, or merging them with bigger operations more able to invest in safety equipment. However consolidation has carried its own risks, as miners are often unaware how close they are to abandoned shafts in the same vein.

Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Jerry Norton

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