XINTAI, China – Rescuers raced Saturday to pump water out of two coal mines flooded by a rain-swollen river in eastern China, where 181 miners were missing and feared dead.
Water levels were rising, work areas were submerged and the miners “had only slim chances of survival,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Wang Ziqi, director of Shandong province’s coal mine safety agency.
Crews installed pipes and five high-speed pumps in the mines in this town southeast of Beijing, Xinhua reported. There was no word on whether there were signs of life.
The Huayuan Mining Co. mine flooded Friday afternoon when the Wen River burst a dike, sending water pouring into a shaft and trapping 172 miners, according to state media reports.
Nine more miners were trapped when water poured into the nearby Minggong Coal Mine on Friday evening, according to Xinhua. It was not clear whether the second flood was due to the same dike break.
The director of China’s industrial safety agency, Li Yizhong, ordered emergency crews to “try every means to rescue the trapped miners,” the agency reported.
An employee who answered the phone at the national mine safety agency said he had no additional information and refused to give his name. Calls to the Shandong mine agency were not answered.
Storms that swept through the region on Friday and Saturday dumped more than 9 inches of rain, Xinhua said. Some 2,000 soldiers, police and miners were working Saturday to close the 175-foot gap in the Wen dike, the agency reported. The water was 6 1/2 feet deep at the breach, the report said.
State television showed work crews dumping sacks of earth and derelict trucks and buses into the gap.
Late Saturday, emergency vehicles from China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police surrounded the Huayuan mine, in a region where the terrain is pockmarked with the mouths of scores of mines.
Police blocked surrounding roads and ordered reporters for local Chinese media to leave the area in an effort to control the release of information.