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Flooding leaves 181 Chinese coal miners trapped, feared dead

    BEIJING — Floodwaters from heavy rains poured into two coal mines in a town in eastern China, leaving 181 miners trapped and feared dead, government officials and state media said Saturday.
    There was no word on whether there was any sign of life in the mines or when rescuers might enter them. Two high-speed pumps reportedly were being rushed in to drain the flooded shafts.
    A dike on the Wen river in Shandong province broke Friday afternoon, sending water gushing into a mine run by the Huayuan Mining Co. in the city of Xintai and trapping 172 miners, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
    Work areas were submerged and the miners ‘‘had only slim chances of survival,’’ Xinhua said, citing Wang Ziqi, director of Shandong’s coal mine safety agency. There was no indication whether rescuers had any sign the miners were alive.
    Friday night, nine more miners were trapped when floodwaters poured into Xintai’s Minggong Coal Mine, Xinhua and China National Radio reported.
    A mine employee reached by phone said the water came from a small river nearby, not the Wen dike break. He would give only his surname, Pan, and said he had no details on the status of rescue efforts.
    An employee who answered the phone at the national mine safety agency said he had no additional information and refused to give his name. Calls to the Shandong mine agency were not answered.
    Rains that swept through on Friday and Saturday dumped more than nine inches of rain on the area, Xinhua said.
    In the Huayuan mine, a total of 756 miners were working at the time of the disaster and 584 escaped, Xinhua said.
    On Saturday, about 2,000 soldiers, police and miners were trying to close the 175-foot-wide gap in the dike on the Wen, the agency reported. It said water was more than six-feet deep at the breech.
    The directors of China’s industrial safety and coal mine safety agencies rushed to Xintai from Beijing to oversee rescue work, the report said.
    The disasters came as rescuers in Utah suspended the search for six coal miners trapped since Aug. 6 by a cave-in. Authorities announced the suspension Friday following a tunnel collapse that killed three rescue workers.
    China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest, with thousands of fatalities each year in fires, floods and other disasters. Many are blamed on managers who disregard safety rules, fail to install required fire-control equipment or push miners to dig far more coal than the mine’s license allows.
    The government has promised for years to improve mine safety.
    Authorities offer rewards to whistle-blowers who expose problems, prosecute officials who collude with unscrupulous mine bosses, and have ordered thousands of small pits closed.
    But China depends on coal for most of its electric power, and the country’s economic boom has created voracious demand. Production has more than doubled since 2000.
    China’s deadliest reported coal mine disaster since the 1949 communist revolution was an explosion that killed 214 miners on Feb. 14, 2005, in the Sunjiawan mine in Liaoning province.

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