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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 August 2007, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Miners' families angry at disaster
As hopes fade for the survival of 181 miners in one of China's worst mining disasters in recent times, families tell the BBC of their anger at the local government's claim it was simply a natural disaster.

Parents of Xia Qingbao
Several miners' mothers, including Xia Qingbao's, are in hospital

"It's 100% the management's fault," said Xia Qingyin, whose brother Xia Qingbao is one of those still trapped underground in the mine disaster in eastern Shandong Province.

Their mother is currently in hospital. Xia Qingyin said she collapsed with shock when local mine officials told her that her son was unlikely to come back alive.

Dozens of elderly mothers and wives are now recovering in the mine hospital, in Xintai city, 450 km (280 miles) south of Beijing.

Rescue workers have been trying to release the trapped miners since last Friday.

The men were working in two mine shafts when torrential rain caused a river to burst its banks, sending water flooding in. There is now little hope of finding anyone alive.

Unless you could have asked God to stop the rain, I don't think we could have avoided the tragedy
Fan Baopin
Local government press officer

The company has sent teams to comfort the relatives and offer each of the trapped miners' families an initial payment of 2,000 yuan ($264).

But it has also attempted to stop journalists getting access to the families, some of whom have openly voiced their anger, not only about the accident but about the lack of information they have been given on the fate of their loved ones.

"Officials just asked us to wait, and told us they are pumping the water out," said Yin Chuanzhi, the elder sister of trapped miner Yin Chuanshuang.

Her mother had a stroke when she heard about the accident.

Another family member is also trapped in the flooded mine.

"We don't know anything. The officials in charge were all away when we demanded information," said Yin Chuanzhi as she fought back tears.

Terrible safety record

Local government press officer Fan Baopin told the BBC that there was no basis for "blaming human factors for the disaster".

Riot police at the mine gates
Riot police have been sent to guard the mine after relatives' protests
"The rain was unprecedented," he said. "Within a few hours, the river beside the mine rose five or six metres.

"Unless you could have asked God to stop the rain, I don't think we could have avoided the tragedy."

But relatives say the mine owners should have recognised the potential danger.

One trapped miner's brother, who did not want to give his name, said managers "only care about the output of coal, not the life of miners".

Outraged relatives stormed into the offices of the Huayuan Mining Company on Monday, and smashed furniture in their anger, saying they had not been kept informed about the progress of the rescue operation.

Following the incident, riot police arrived to stop anyone not involved in the rescue operation from entering the mine.

Miners fix breached levee in Shangdong province - 20/08/07
Experts say it will take 100 days to drain the water from the mine

China has one of the worst mine safety records in the world.

The government acknowledges that about 5,000 people die every year in accidents, but some independent groups put the figure at closer to 20,000.

As the relatives of the Huayuan mining disaster wait for news, rescue workers are still pumping water out of the mine.

However, experts quoted by China's state news agency Xinhua admitted that there was little hope for the miners.

They estimate it will take about 100 days to drain the water out of the mine at the current rate of progress.

Relatives rampage through the mining firm's offices

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