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Officials fired as rescue ongoing

(China Daily)

15:37, August 26, 2011

Rescuers are about to descend into the coal mine in Boli county of Heilongjiang province, on Thursday, where 26 miners have been trapped since a flood on Tuesday. Zhao Yunpeng / China Daily

BOLI, Heilongjiang - Two senior county officials were sacked on Thursday as rescuers raced with time to save 26 miners who have been trapped in a flooded coal mine since Tuesday in Heilongjiang province.

Wang Xingwu, government head of Boli county, where the mine is located, and Zhang Xuegang, deputy county chief, were dismissed at an emergency meeting held by the Qitaihe city's Party committee on Wednesday afternoon.

The Boli county Party committee was also advised to dismiss Deng Xiaoqiu, head of the county's work safety bureau.

Deng has been the spokesperson for the coal mine accident the past two days.

The flooding occurred midday Tuesday, when 45 miners were working in a pit of the Hengtai Coal Mining Co. Nineteen miners managed to escape.

Locals on Thursday became impatient and blamed "absent work safety supervision" as the rescuers still could not reach the trapped workers after two days.

"The progress is too slow," one relative of a trapped miner shouted in the rescue center on Thursday.

Though local authorities announced that water gushed in at noon, people living nearby suspected the accident occurred earlier and management did not take any action.

"You can't take any action to mitigate damage caused by a gas explosion, but you can evacuate workers when flooding begins," Du Guangrong, whose nephew, Li Dongdong, 22, is among the 26 trapped, told China Daily.

"Many people told me water began seeping into the pit at 9 am. The pit manager then informed the mine manager, surnamed Song, who did not stop mining activities because he thought it was manageable."

A preliminary investigation by authorities found that workers mistakenly drilled into a neighboring deserted mine, causing water seepage and the ensuing flood.

Zhang Jun, a publicity official with the Qitaihe city government, dismissed the allegation by saying the accident occurred at noon and managers immediately reported it to county and city leaders.

Du told China Daily that locals have long been aware of the high risks of working in small-scale pits in the city that have experienced gas explosions and similar flooding several times in recent years.

"But we have no other choices. Working in a nearby forest farm around the coal mine would not sustain us."

Du said Li earned 5,000 yuan ($780) a month as a miner and Li's mother also works for the mine above ground.

"If he can ascend safely, we'll never allow him to go down there any more."

According to information provided to China Daily by the rescue headquarters, an estimated 40,000 cubic meters of water gushed into the pit.

By 4 pm Thursday, 16,990 cu m of water had been sucked out by seven pipes with an hourly capacity of around 1,000 cu m.

Two of the seven pipes temporarily broke and stopped functioning on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile rescuers kept drilling holes into the ground to reach places where the trapped workers might have escaped.

Two holes had been drilled 195 meters and 190 meters into the ground by 4 pm and still had not reached any miners to deliver air, food or medicine.

"The channels might be able to reach miners on Friday at about 260 meters deep," said the publicity official. "But we can't be 100 percent sure about that."

A third place for drilling was prepared for operation on Thursday.

Many volunteers from the county's Party committee and local women's federation have joined the operation in pacifying relatives or facilitating logistics.

The county hospital also prepared 500 nutrition fluid packs, each of 100 ml volume to sustain life for half a day, to be sent down through the holes.

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