BEIJING: Rescuers are in telephone contact with workers trapped for more than a week following an explosion in a gold mine in China and have been able to send them food and medicine, an official said on Tuesday (Jan 19).
Chen Fei, the mayor of the city of Yantai, said it appeared at least 12 of the 22 workers underground were alive and in relatively good health. The fate of the other 10 workers remained unknown.
Hundreds of rescuers drilled several fresh holes on Tuesday to reach the miners, who have been trapped for nine days, as dwindling food supplies and rising waters threatened their survival.
Rescuers are also seeking to clear debris left by the Jan 10 explosion that cut the miners off from the surface.
They had already dug three channels and sent food, medicine, paper and pencils down thin shafts - lifelines to the miners cut into the earth.
Progress in reaching the miners has been slow, however, according to Chen.
"The surrounding rock near the ore body is mostly granite ... that is very hard, resulting in slow progress of rescue," he told reporters on Monday evening.
"There is a lot of water in the shaft that may flow into the manway and pose a danger to the trapped workers."
Chen said the current food supply was only enough for two days.
After days without any signs of life, workers managed to pass a note to the surface on Monday saying they were suffering from toxic fumes and rising water levels but calling on rescuers not to give up.
Several of the miners were injured, the note said.
A subsequent phone call with the miners revealed 11 were in one location 540m below the surface with another - apparently alone - trapped a further 100m down.
Rescue teams lost precious time since it took more than a day for the accident to be reported, China Youth Daily reported, citing provincial authorities.
Managers of the mine have been detained for the delay.
An official investigation is under way to determine the cause of the explosion.
The mine in Qixia, a jurisdiction under Yantai in Shandong province, had been under construction at the time of the blast.
Increased supervision has improved safety in China's mining industry, which used to post an average of 5,000 deaths per year. Yet, demand for coal and precious metals continues to prompt corner-cutting, and two accidents in the south-western megacity of Chongqing last year killed 39 miners.