July 22, 2008 / 2:54 AM / 12 years ago

China rescuers race against clock to reach miners

Police inspect the scene of a bus explosion in Kunming, Yunnan province July 21, 2008. Deliberate explosions on public buses killed at least three people and injured 14 in the southwestern city of Kunming on Monday, local media said. REUTERS/China Daily

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese rescuers were struggling to reach 36 coal miners on Tuesday a day after they were trapped underground by flood waters, but only 12 were known to be alive, state media said.

The disaster is the most recent in grim series of accidents to blight China’s coal mining industry, the deadliest in the world, as mine owners push production beyond safety limits in the face of huge demand and soaring profits.

The flooding occurred at a mine in Tiandong county in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Monday where 56 miners were working underground, Xinhua quoted local work safety officials as saying.

Seven escaped on their own and 13 were rescued, some in the early hours of Tuesday, it said.

Rescuers were trying to send water and porridge to 12 miners, but had yet to make contact with the other 24, Xinhua said.

“They were trapped in a place about 2,000 metres (yards) from the entrance,” it quoted a rescuer as saying of the 12. “The lack of oxygen in the narrow mining tunnel would make it difficult for the exhausted miners to get out by themselves.”

Some medical workers had entered a “relatively safe working face” as the flood water level dropped thanks to continuous pumping, Xinhua said.

A total of 3,786 Chinese coal miners died in gas blasts, flooding and other accidents in 2007, down 20 percent from 2006 as the central government cracked down on small and unsafe mines. But in 2008, there has been a renewed focus on production, to offset rising prices and supply disruptions.

Officials have said that China, undergoing rapid industrialisation, may need another decade before there is a drastic fall in mine and other industrial deaths.

Reporting by Kirby Chien and Guo Shipeng; Editing by Nick Macfie

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