August 23, 2007 / 9:35 AM / 12 years ago

"No hope" of survivors in China mine disaster

BEIJING (Reuters) - There is “no hope” of finding survivors from a flood in a Chinese coal mine which has trapped 181 workers, a senior official said on Thursday, adding those responsible for the disaster will be handed over to the law.

Relatives of coal miners trapped in flooded shafts participate in a sit-in protest inside the Huayuan Mining Corp. headquarters in Xintai, east China's Shandong province, August 20, 2007. There is "no hope" of finding survivors from a flood in a Chinese coal mine which has trapped 181 workers, a senior official said on Thursday, adding those responsible for the disaster will be handed over to the law. REUTERS/Aly Song

The miners have been trapped since Friday, when a river dyke burst during torrential rain, sending water surging into adjacent mine shafts. Most of the miners are trapped in one main shaft. Nine others were in a smaller shaft nearby.

“The rain where the mine is massively exceeded our expectations and exceeded historical records,” Shandong province deputy governor Huang Sheng told reporters on the sidelines of a news conference. “We could not hold it back with manpower alone.”

“Because of the large amount of water, we think there is no hope of survivors,” he added. “We’ve been speeding up the pumping of water every day. Experts say it will still take a few days.”

The crisis in the eastern province of Shandong has become a test of shaken public faith in government promises to improve safety at mines — long the world’s deadliest as producers strain to feed China’s voracious energy demand.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in China’s coal mines in the first seven months of this year alone.

Relatives of the missing have protested that officials and the Huayuan Mining Co., which runs the larger shaft, did not act to protect the men from the swollen waters, had failed to keep family members informed, and were trying to avoid culpability by calling the incident a “natural disaster”.

“The initial conclusion has come out, and that is that it was a natural disaster, but for the final conclusion we’ll have to wait for the state to decide,” Huang said.

“We will deal with it seriously according to the law. As to who ought to shoulder responsibility, it will be looked at in accordance with the law,” he added.

China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, which distributes disaster relief, also said the floods were a “natural disaster” — which usually do not attract official compensation — but families could expect special help because the victims were working at the time.

Huang said there would be “no problem” with compensation.

“There are very clear government rules about this,” he said.

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