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Hopes fade for 26 trapped in China mine
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 25, 2011

Hopes faded Thursday that 26 miners trapped for over two days in a flooded mine in northeast China would survive, as local officials were punished for the accident, the government and press said.

The illegally operating mine in Heilongjiang province flooded on Tuesday when 45 workers were in the pit, the State Administration of Work Safety said on its website. Nineteen miners managed to escape shortly after the accident.

According to the state-owned China National Radio, workers have been pumping water out of the mine for three days, but there has been no sign of life so far from the trapped miners.

Efforts to drain the mine and reach areas where the miners may have taken refuge could take several more days, media reports said.

On Wednesday, the government in Boli county -- where the mine is located -- said it had sacked two top officials for their roles leading up to the mishap, including the county head.

Provincial authorities had ordered work at the mine owned by the Hengtai Coal Mining Co. to halt in 2007, but on August 16 the owner illegally restarted production, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The flood occurred after workers mistakenly drilled into a neighbouring mine that had been filled with water, it said.

China's coal mines -- which have a dismal safety record -- have been hit by a series of accidents in recent years as demand for energy has spiked. In July, a coal mine flood in southwest Guizhou province killed 23 workers.

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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