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115 Chinese miners rescued after 8 days

Crews hope to bring out 38 more trapped miners. Television coverage of the rescue operation, which occurred on a holiday, has riveted the nation.

April 06, 2010|By Barbara Demick
  • A rescued miner is taken to a hospital.
A rescued miner is taken to a hospital. (Associated Press / Xinhua )

Reporting from Beijing — For once, it was good news that came out from the depths of a Chinese coal mine as 115 workers were rescued Monday after eight days and eight nights trapped underground in Shanxi province.

The extraordinary rescue turned into a round-the-clock reality show with state-run CCTV broadcasting live footage of the rescue workers carrying out the miners to a cheering audience. Crews were still hoping Monday night to bring out 38 more.

Although the miners had their faces wrapped with towels to protect their eyes after so many days in darkness, their elation was evident. Even lying flat on his back, one was clapping and gave a high-five to a rescuer.

"They were in high spirits," Chen Yongsheng, the chief rescue worker, told Chinese television.

The miners had been trapped since March 28 when what one survivor described as a tidal wave of water came rushing in to the mine they were building in Wangjialing, 400 miles southwest of Beijing. Apparently in the construction process they had hit an abandoned shaft containing enough water to fill more than 50 Olympic-size swimming pools.

"I am really amazed that the miners held on in the mine shaft for eight days and eight nights," Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, told Chinese television.

Some of the miners told rescuers they had used their belts to lash themselves to the walls of the shaft to stay above the water level, according to the TV reports. One said he hung suspended for three days before spotting a mining cart floating by that served as a makeshift boat. Others said they had been eating bark from support beams.

Rescue workers had been trying to pump out the flooded mine for five days when on Friday they heard voices and tapping sounds. Through a pipe they dropped pens and paper as well as a glucose solution for nutrition.

By Sunday, enough water had been pumped out that the rescue crews were able to enter the mine in small boats. Once they got in, they could see that men were alive from lamps waving in the darkness, but they had difficulty reaching them because of the currents.

"There was barely enough space for our little boats. We used our hands to push ourselves forward along the ceiling," chief rescue worker Chen told Chinese television.

The rescued men were said to be suffering from hypothermia, dehydration, shock, low blood pressure and ulcers from their long exposure to the water, according to Liu Qiang, a doctor at the Shanxi Aluminum Workers Hospital, where miners were being treated.

That the rescue took place on a day when most Chinese were off work for the Qingming holiday, when people traditionally clean the graves of their ancestors, made it that much more of a national spectacle.

"It has proved that we answered the party central's call to rescue the miners with scientific methods," Shanxi Communist Party chief Zhang Baoshun said on Chinese television.

The television reports as of Monday night featured few interviews with family members. In recent days, some had criticized the mine's owner, the state-owned Huajin Coking Coal Co. Ltd., which they said had been ignoring warning signs of accumulating water.

barbara.demick

@latimes.com

Tommy Yang of The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.

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