China rescuers end search for 21 Guizhou miners

Beijing — Rescuers in southwest China have called off their search for 21 coal miners trapped underground by a flood two weeks ago, saying the workers were “very unlikely to be alive”, state media said Sunday.

The colliery in Guizhou province’s Pingtang county flooded on July 2, leaving 23 miners trapped underground, and rescuers later retrieved two bodies.

The official Xinhua news agency said rescue work stopped Saturday afternoon. It quoted experts as saying the miners were “unlikely” to be alive, adding the area where they were believed to be located had been entirely submerged.

Li Shangkuan, head of the rescue headquarters, said 406,000 cubic metres of water had been pumped out of the shaft over the past two weeks — the equivalent of more than 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

But he was quoted as saying flood water was still pouring into the pit, and potential secondary disasters such as cave-ins threatened rescue work.

The accident has been blamed on a breakdown in the drainage system, the report said.

China’s coal mines — which have a notoriously poor safety record — have been hit by a series of accidents in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, three rescuers died from extreme heat stroke as they tried to help workers trapped in a coal mine in the eastern province of Shandong.

Last year, 2,433 people died in coal mine accidents in China, according to official statistics — a rate of more than six workers per day.

Labour rights groups, however, say the actual death toll is likely much higher, partly due to under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses and avoid punishment.

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