- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

XINTAI, China (AP) — Rescuers raced yesterday 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’s coal mine safety agency.

Crews installed pipes and five high-speed pumps in the mines in this town southeast of Beijing in Shandong province, Xinhua reported. There was no word on 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 Xinhua and state radio and television.

Nine more miners were trapped when water poured into the nearby Minggong Coal Mine Friday night, according to Xinhua. It was not clear whether the second flood was due to the same dike break.

Storms that swept through the region yesterday and Friday dumped more than 9 inches of rain, Xinhua said.

Some 2,000 soldiers, police and miners worked yesterday to close the 175-foot gap in the Wen dike, the agency reported.

Late yesterday, 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 press to leave the area in an effort to control the release of information.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest, with thousands of deaths a year in fires, floods and other disasters. Many are blamed on managers who disregard safety rules, fail to install required fire-control equipment or push miners to dig far more coal than the mine’s license allows.

Authorities offer rewards to whistle-blowers who expose problems, prosecute officials who collude with unscrupulous mine bosses, and have ordered thousands of small pits closed.

But China depends on coal for most of its electric power, and the country’s economic boom has created voracious demand. Production has more than doubled since 2000.

Meanwhile, the death toll in the collapse of a bridge in southern China jumped to 64 yesterday after rescuers found 17 bodies in the rubble, a state news agency said.

It was not clear how many victims might still be buried under the wreckage of Monday’s collapse in the tourist town of Fenghuang, Xinhua said, citing rescue officials.

On Friday, rescuers blasted away stone and concrete in order to search under the rubble of the bridge, which collapsed while under construction.