The number of miners trapped and feared dead after an illegal coal mine was flooded in southern China rose to 123 Tuesday as rescue teams continued pumping water from the shaft in the faint hope they will be found alive.
State media said the mine was unlicensed and ignored orders to shut down - an example of how China's hunger for coal to power its economic growth is leading to profits being placed ahead of lives.
Officials initially said 102 miners were trapped and only four escaped when the Daxing Coal Mine, in Xingning city, 265 kilometres (165 miles) northeast of the Guangdong provincial capital Guangzhou, flooded on Sunday afternoon.
After verifying information with people coming forward to report missing relatives, Guangdong's vice governor You Ningfeng told reporters Tuesday the new number was 123, the Xinhua news agency said.
An official at the local coal mining management office in Huanghuai town could not rule out further rises.
"We still don't know how many people are in the mine," said the official, who refused to be identified.
Local residents said the mine employs about 300 people, but one said around 100 miners work in the shaft during each shift.
"We need time to check the exact number... all the managers ran away after the accident. So it's hard to get the correct number at the moment," An Yuanjie, a spokesman for the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, told
The China Daily quoted a resident as saying there are usually more than 200 miners working in the pit.
"Almost all the miners were working when the accident happened," the man surnamed Wang said.
After being trapped for more than 48 hours 480 meters (1,580 feet) underground, the miners' chances of surviving were slim, officials said -- especially because water continues to gush into the pit faster than it can be pumped out.
An said rescue work was very difficult. "In fact, the entire coal mine is full of water. Hope for the miners is slim," he said.
The accident likely occurred when the Daxing miners accidentally broke through into an old and flooded mine, residents said.
The miners are mainly poor farmers from the nearby provinces of Jiangxi, Anhui, Guizhou and Hunan.
Nearly 1,000 of their relatives flocked to the scene and were being sheltered in an elementary school and hostels as they anxiously awaited news.
"The families are very unstable. They are demanding to know why an illegal mine was allowed to operate," said Liu Xinmei, the school's gatekeeper.
Liu's wife told AFP that workers knew the mine had been ordered to close, but had no choice but risk their lives.
"The work is very dangerous, very difficult, but they do it for the money," she said, adding the miners can earn up to 3,000 yuan (369 dollars) a month. "They have kids to feed back in the farms."
Hong Kong television footage showed emotional relatives crying incessantly. Other miners told reporters they had to risk their lives because there is not enough land to farm at home as a result of excessive land requisition.
"What choice do I have, I can't stay in the village and do nothing. I have to do this," one miner in the area told TVB.
More than 600 people have been sent to try to save the miners. Photos showed muddied rescuers working hard to install high-power pumps.
Local authorities issued a notice Monday calling for 65 managers who fled to return and help with the investigation.
The accident highlighted the deadly consequences of China's drive to extract more coal to power its rapidly growing economy. China relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs.
The privately-owned mine, along with other mines in the area, had been ordered to close after another local mine flooded last month, killing 16. But the owners ignored the orders, Xinhua added.
China's mines are considered the world's deadliest, with about 2,700 mining fatalities recorded in the first half of the year. Independent estimates say the real figure could be far higher.
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China's Leaders Call For All-Out Effort To Free More Than 100 Trapped Miners
Beijing (AFP) Aug 07, 2005
China's top leaders urged an all-out effort to save more than 100 miners trapped in a flooded coal mine in southern China on Sunday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
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