Relatives outraged at no word of miners

Monday, August 20, 2007

XINTAI, China -- Distressed family members shouted and scuffled with guards after a third day without word on 172 miners trapped in a flooded mine in eastern China, where rescue crews began pumping water Sunday.

Paramilitary police and emergency crews plugged a breach in a dike that burst Friday after heavy rains, flooding the Huayuan Mining Co. mine, officials and state media said. As industrial pumps began siphoning water that stood 65 feet deep in the shaft, experts analyzed accident data to try to locate the missing miners, a provincial official said.

"There's some hope, and we will expend one hundred percent, a thousand percent of effort to carry out the search and rescue," Zhang Dekuan, spokesman for the government of Shandong province, where the mine is located, told reporters.

Despite Zhang's media briefing in a local hotel, no officials or mining company executives emerged from Huayuan's sprawling, gated compound to talk to the miners' waiting, anxious relatives. No list of the missing had been issued, they said.

"They are treating these people like they are things to be sacrificed," said Li Chunmei, whose 42-year-old brother was believed to be trapped in the 600-yard shaft. "You would think an official could come and tell us what's going on, whether there are any signs of life, are they dead or alive."

Dozens of relatives -- sobbing mothers and children among them -- shouted "Why don't you come out!" at officials who stood with police and security guards behind the gate. At one point, the crowd surged, bending the aluminum gate and setting off a fracas of shoving. Later, a middle-aged woman broke through only to be wrestled away by two guards in camouflage.

Meanwhile, another nine miners were stranded in a second mine in the area that also flooded after the rain-swollen Wen river burst two dikes, bringing the total number of missing to 181.

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