115 workers rescued after 8 days trapped in Chinese coal mine

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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 an
around-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
miners.

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 for Work Safety, told Chinese television. Some of the
surviving miners told rescue workers they had used their belts to lash
themselves to the walls of the shaft to stay above the water level,
according to Chinese television. 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 Aluminium Workers’ Hospital, where miners were being treated.

That the rescue happened on a day when most Chinese
were off work for the Qingming holiday — when people traditionally
clean the graves of the ancestors — made it that much more of a
national spectacle. Chinese officials lost no opportunity to score
political points.

“It has proved that we answered the Party Central’s call to rescue the miners with scientific methods,” said Shanxi’s Communist Party chief Zhang Baoshun on Chinese television.

The Chinese television footage as of Monday night
had few interviews with family members. In recent days, some had been
critical of the owner of the coal mine, the state-owned Huajin Coking Coal Co. Ltd., which they said had been ignoring signs of accumulating water.

Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in China
with the quest for profits often leading to shortcuts in worker safety.
In 2008, nearly 7,000 people were killed in coal mining accidents in China, although last year the toll fell to 2,631.

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(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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