Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Friday, 2 April 2010 12:01 UK

China rescue workers 'hear signs of life' in flood mine


Rescuers celebrate as they hear banging on pipes

Rescue teams attempting to reach 153 miners trapped in a flooded coal pit in China have heard signs of life from inside, state media has reported.

The rescuers heard what sounded like people banging on pipes at the pit in northern Shanxi province colliery, five days after it flooded, CCTV said.

More than 100 people managed to escape the flood but the rest were trapped.

Earlier this week, officials said lax safety and ignored danger warnings were to blame for the disaster.

A CCTV reporter said the teams had heard "a continuous tapping sound coming up a dredge pipe" at the Wangjialing pit.

"Everyone was really excited as it showed that efforts were not in vain," said the reporter.

A spokesman at the mine, Wen Changjin, said the sounds had come from an estimated 250m (820ft) below the surface at about 1400 local time (0600 GMT).

Another rescuer told the Associated Press news agency there were unconfirmed reports voices had also been heard.

Food supplies

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says television channels have shown footage of a piece of pipe being sent into another area of the mine and coming out with wire coiled around it, something rescuers say can only have been done by someone underground.

CCTV said rescuers were now trying to send food and milk down pipes into the mine.

But, says our correspondent, there is still no definite confirmation that the miners are still alive or can be reached.

Thousands of people have been involved in the operation to pump water from the mine, which had been under construction, and reach those trapped.

Rescuers in Yichuan County, Henan, China (1 April 2010)
An explosion in Henan province killed at least 13 miners

CCTV said the water level had fallen by 2.6m since the flood, which officials said had happened when miners had broken through an old shaft filled with water.

Most of those reported to be trapped were migrant workers from Shanxi, Hebei, Hunan and Guizhou provinces, said the Xinhua news agency.

On Wednesday, China's State Administration of Work Safety said the state-run 180-sq-km (70-sq-mile) mine had been overcrowded and managers had ignored reports of water leaking into the tunnels.

It said the mine's operators had "violated regulations and policies during the work process" and failed to follow the rules for preventing water leaks.

The Wangjialing disaster was one of five this week in China's mines, which are considered the most dangerous in the world.

On Wednesday, 19 miners were killed and dozens trapped by a gas explosion at a pit in Yichuan County in Henan province.

Five people were also reported to have been trapped after a flood at a pit in Heilongjiang province on Thursday on the same day that nine died after a fire in Shaanxi province.

Another 10 miners were reported missing after a pit collapsed in western Xinjiang region.

China relies on its coal supplies to fuel its economic growth, with coal providing some 70% of the country's energy.

Most mining accidents are blamed on failures to follow safety rules, including a lack of required ventilation or fire control equipment.

The government has stepped up efforts to improve safety in the mining industry in recent years, by enforcing regulations and taking measures to close unregulated mines.

According to official figures, 2,631 coal miners died in 1,616 mine accidents in China in 2009, down 18% from the previous year.

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