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Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Saturday, 3 April 2010 14:59 UK

Chinese divers enter mine after flood traps 153 workers

Miners wait for news of their colleagues at the entrance to a flooded mine shaft at Wangjialing coal mine, in northern China"s Shanxi province on March 29, 2010
Thousands of people are taking part in the rescue

Rescuers have entered a flooded coal mine in northern China, six days after 153 workers were trapped.

Divers with cameras were among those sent in ahead of a possible full-scale operation which could begin on Sunday.

It is the first time teams have entered the mine in Shanxi province since it flooded. Signs of life were detected on Friday - nothing has been heard since.

China, which relies heavily on coal to fuel its economy, has some of the most dangerous mines in the world.

Earlier this week, a preliminary investigation found that officials had ignored water leaks prior to the accident.

What is important is... to do everything we can and not waste a second
Luo Lin,
State Administration of Work Safety

Hopes rose on Friday when rescuers heard what sounded like people banging on pipes from within the mine.

A piece of pipe was sent into another area of the mine and came out with wire coiled around it - something rescuers say could only have been done by someone underground.

Rescuers then sent pens, paper, food and milk down metal pipes into the pit, but nothing new had been heard as of Saturday afternoon, officials said.

Race against time

More than 100 people managed to escape the flood last Sunday at the Wangjialing pit, but the rest were trapped.

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Rescuers believe they may be in as many as nine different locations inside the pit.

The head of China's State Administration of Work Safety, Luo Lin, says the rescue teams need to work fast.

"What is now most important is to have more confidence, to do everything we can and not waste a second," he said.

Divers sent in on Saturday said the black, murky water was making conditions underground very difficult.

Thousands of people have been helping to pump water from the mine, which had been under construction. Water levels in the pit had dropped five metres (15 feet) by Saturday, officials said.

Experts say it could still take days to reach the miners - survival will depend largely on whether they have enough air to breathe and clean water to drink.

"They're doing probably the only thing they can do, which is to pump water as fast as they possibly can," David Feickert, a safety adviser to the Chinese government, told the Associated Press.

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Rescuers celebrated on Friday when they heard banging on pipes

Most mining accidents in China are blamed on failures to follow safety rules.

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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