Rescue effort in crucial phase

08:28, April 07, 2010      

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Operation temporarily suspended after hazardous gas accumulates

The rescue operation at a flooded mine in North China's Shanxi province has entered its most challenging phase, as rescue workers struggle to reach the last group of 32 miners trapped in the lowest levels of the pit.

Rescue teams found the bodies of five workers in the Wangjialing coal mine on Monday night. These were the first fatalities to be announced after 115 men were pulled out alive earlier in the day, according to the rescue headquarters.

The death toll rose to six on Tuesday afternoon, according to Shanxi Governor Wang Jun.

Before the major breakthrough in the rescue effort on Monday, a total of 153 workers had been trapped deep underground for more than a week after the mine flooded on March 28.

The names of the survivors and the dead miners have yet to be confirmed by the authorities.

The underground search for the remaining 32 miners was temporarily suspended when it was discovered that a highly explosive gas had accumulated in the pit, Liu Dezheng, spokesman for the rescue headquarters, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Earlier, Liu said the rescue teams had located the men, though their conditions remained unclear.

In addition to the threat of a gas explosion, rescue workers still faced the difficulty of pumping out the water that blocked the passage to the lowest part of the shaft.

According to Liu, headquarters was adjusting plans to overcome these new challenges in the rescue effort.

Of the 115 rescued miners, most of them were in stable physical conditions, with 26 showing relatively serious symptoms but without threats to their lives. All were under medical treatment in hospitals across three cities of Shanxi.

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