115 Chinese coal miners rescued

"A miracle has finally happened," says eyewitness to week-long rescue efforts.

chinese mine medics 311 (photo credit: AP)
chinese mine medics 311
(photo credit: AP)
XIANGNING, China — More than 100 Chinese miners were pulled out aliveMonday after being trapped for over a week in a flooded coal mine,where some ate sawdust and strapped themselves to the shafts' wallswith their belts to avoid drowning while they slept.
Minerswrapped in blankets, some with their light-sensitive eyes covered buttheir feet bare, were hurried to waiting ambulances that sped wailingto nearby hospitals. One clapped on his stretcher and reached out hisblackened hands to grasp those of rescuers on either side.
Rescuersin tears hugged each other at the scene, which was broadcast live onnational television. The sudden surge in rescues was a rare piece ofgood news for China's mining industry, the deadliest in the world. Arescue spokesman said 115 survivors had been pulled out as of 4:30 p.m.local time (0830 GMT; 4:30 a.m. EDT).
"A miracle has finallyhappened," Liu Dezheng told reporters Monday morning, after the firstnine miners were taken out shortly after midnight. "We believe thatmore miracles will happen."
Rescuers have been pumping water outof the flooded mine since last Sunday, when workers digging a tunnelbroke into an old shaft filled with water. The first signs of life fromunderground came Friday, when tapping could be heard coming up thepipes. Divers first headed into the tunnels over the weekend but foundhigh, murky water and emerged empty-handed.
As the water levelcontinued to drop, rescuers with rubber rafts entered late Sunday andpulled out the first nine survivors just after midnight. Eleven hourslater, the large wave of rescues began.
The miners had spenteight days underground and were soaked through. Some had hung fromshaft walls by their belts for days to avoid falling into the waterwhen asleep. Later, they climbed into a mining cart that floated by.
LiuQiang, a medical officer involved in the rescue, said the survivors hadhypothermia, severe dehydration and skin infections from being in thewater so long. Some also were in shock and had low blood pressure.
"Thisis probably one of the most amazing rescues in the history of mininganywhere," said David Feickert, a coal mine safety adviser to theChinese government.
A total of 153 workers had been trapped, andthere was no word Monday afternoon on the status of the 39 miners stillunderground. Conditions remained complicated by high murky water.
Familiesof the survivors were thrilled. "He called and managed to say mysister's nickname, 'Xiaomi,' so we know it's really him and that he'salive," said Long Liming, who said he received a call around middayfrom his rescued brother-in-law Fu Ziyang.
A doctor then tookthe phone and said Fu had to rest, Long said. "He was trappedunderground for so long, so he's very weak. But we are very relieved toknow that he made it out safely."
Officials said most of the rescued miners were in stable condition, but state television said seven were in serious condition.
Ina sign of government concerns over possible social unrest, familymembers of the trapped miners said they have been kept under closewatch in hotels and are not allowed to leave unless accompanied byminders.
The first rescue early Monday morning had seemed beyondhope for days before crews finally heard tapping from deep undergroundFriday.
Rescuers then scrambled to understand the complicatedsituation underground and send down packages of glucose, milk andletters of encouragement. One read: "Dear fellow workers, the PartyCentral Committee, the State Council and the whole nation have beenconcerned for your safety all the time.... You must have confidence andhold on to the last!"
Some workers appeared to be trapped onupper platforms of the mine; their access to the entrance of theV-shaped shaft was blocked by an area swamped with water.
"Thesituation underground was a bit more complicated than we predicted,"Luo Lin, the director of the State Administration for Work Safety, toldstate television.
It was unclear Monday how deep into the mine the rescued workers had been found.
"The miners in the lowest levels will be in the most extreme danger,"Feickert said. "Just think of a tall building, with people on differentfloors, if that suddenly filled up with water."
China Central Television said one of the newly rescued workers still was holding his mining lamp.
A preliminary investigation last week found that the mine's managersignored water leaks before the accident, the State Administration ofWork Safety said.
China's coal mines are the world's deadliest. Accidents killed 2,631coal miners in China last year, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, themost dangerous year on record, according to the State Administration ofCoal Mine Safety.