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172 Still Trapped in Flooded Coal Mine in East China

A total of 172 miners are still trapped in a flooded coal mine in east China's Shandong Province despite a levee breach that was blamed for the flooding was blocked early Sunday morning.

According to the State Administration of Work Safety, two water pumps with a capacity of 1,000 cubic meters per hour are on the way to the accident site.

Meanwhile, four high-power water pumps from Shandong's neighboring Hebei and Henan provinces have been sent to the coal mine.

A set of drilling equipment from Shengli Oil Field, a major oil and natural gas producer in Shandong, has been installed at the coal mine, ready to drill a hole into the flooded shaft to help with the rescue effort.

At present, two of the already-installed water pumps have started working, pumping out 400 cubic meters of water per hour.

"The total draining capacity will reach 5,000 cubic meters per hour after all the water pumps are put into operation on Monday," a rescue official said.

By 6PM Sunday, the water level in the flooded shaft dropped 5.5 meters from nearly 90 meters to 83 meters, the official said.

The rescuers have put under control further flooding in the coal mine area and the water level in the shaft will not rise again, the official said.

More than 2,000 Chinese People's Liberation Army troops, armed police and miners managed to block the levee breach on the swollen Wenhe River at 3:38AM Sunday.

The flooding occurred at around 2:30PM Friday in the coal mine of Huayuan Mining Co. Ltd in Xintai City, about 150 km south of Jinan, the provincial capital.

A total of 756 miners were working underground at the time of the flooding and 584 managed to escape.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered late Saturday all-out efforts into the rescue work, and asked rescuers to "promptly mobilize equipment and personnel resources available and take all necessary measures to rescue the trapped miners."

Torrential rain swept Xintai on Friday and early Saturday with a precipitation of 232 mm, triggering a flash flood and a 50-meterbreach in a levee on the Wenhe River.

Floodwater from the river poured into the coal mine at 2:30PM Friday via an obsolete shaft and caused the accident.

Most of the trapped workers were from rural areas in Tai'an City and surrounding areas, said Wang Junmin, vice governor of Shandong.

Dozens of family members of the trapped miners have arrived at the coal mine. They are waiting near the accident site for latest information about the rescue work.

Shandong provincial government has allocated ten million yuan (about US$1.3 million) in the rescue effort.

Zhang Yulin, a worker with a nearby coal mine, said he was called up to close the breached levee at around 3:00AM Saturday together with others.

Authorities have summoned high-power pumps from the provinces of Henan, Hebei and Shanxi to speed up pumping operation.

The rescue headquarters ordered all coal mines near the banks of the Wenhe River to stop production and evacuate all miners.

Residents in the low-lying areas downstream were also told to get prepared to evacuate.

Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, is at the site overseeing rescue efforts. He ordered a speedup of water pumping operation and "try every means to rescue the trapped miners".

The work safety watchdog issued on Saturday an emergency notice urging coal mines to draw lessons from the Huayuan mine accident and immediately take preventive measures against rainstorm-triggered floods.

Huayuan Mining Co. Ltd. is a licensed enterprise with an annual capacity of 750,000 tons. The flooded mine was built in 1957.

In a separate accident in Xintai, nine people were trapped in the Minggong coal mine after it was flooded at around 8:00PM Friday because of the rainstorm.

Ninety-five people were working underground at the time of the flooding, and 86 managed to escape.

Earlier this month, all the 69 miners trapped in a flooded coalmine in central China's Henan Province for three days were rescued in one of the most successful rescue operations in coal mine accidents in China.

(Xinhua News Agency August 20, 2007)

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