26 Miners Trapped in Flooded Chinese Coal Shaft

Posted August 24th, 2011 at 2:35 am (UTC-5)
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Chinese officials say rescue teams are racing Wednesday to reach 26 workers trapped in a flooded coal mine in northeastern China.

State-controlled media say the mine was operating illegally when a large amount of ground water poured into the shaft on Tuesday. Central government authorities have promised to punish those responsible but local officials say their first priority is to reach the trapped men.

More than 400 rescuers are using pumps to drain the mine, and officials say they hope to be able to enter the shaft in two to three days.

The mine was operated by the Hengtai Coal Mining Company in a remote part of Heilongjiang province. Like all small mining operations in China, it was ordered to shut down and integrate with a larger operation for safety reasons, but the owners kept the mine open illegally.

China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with more than 2,400 people killed in the mines last year. Many of the deaths occurred in small, unregulated operations like the Hengtai mine.