Image: Rescued coal miner
Ng Han Guan  /  AP
A coal miner rescued from the Wangjialing Coal Mine in Xiangning is rushed into a hospital in Hejing, China, on Monday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/5/2010 10:08:44 AM ET 2010-04-05T14:08:44

At least 115 miners were pulled alive from a flooded coal mine in north China after being trapped for over a week, eating tree bark to survive and prompting jubilant officials to hail their survival a miracle.

Rescued miners wrapped in blankets were hurried to waiting ambulances that sped wailing to nearby hospitals. One clapped on his stretcher and reached out his blackened hands to grasp those of rescuers on either side.

"A miracle has finally happened," Liu Dezheng told reporters Monday morning, after the first nine miners were taken out shortly after midnight. "We believe that more miracles will happen."

Rescuers hugged each other at the scene. The sudden surge in rescues was a rare piece of good news for China's mining industry, the deadliest in the world. An official said 115 survivors had been pulled out as of 4:30 p.m. local time (4:30 a.m. ET).

'I'm good'
One of the surviving workers insisted on borrowing a cell phone from a doctor to call his family in central China's rural Henan province.

"I'm good. How are you and the kid?" he asked his wife, according to a report on the Web site of the People's Daily newspaper.

Of the 153 initially trapped, there are still 38 miners in the shaft. Rescuers expressed confidence Monday they could be saved but did not say whether there had been any contact with them.

"This is probably one of the most amazing rescues in the history of mining anywhere," said David Feickert, a coal mine safety adviser to the Chinese government.

Officials said most of the rescued miners were in stable condition, but state television said seven were in serious condition, The Associated Press reported.

Tapping
Rescuers have been pumping water out of the flooded mine since last Sunday, when workers digging a tunnel broke into an old shaft filled with water. The first signs of life from underground came Friday, when tapping could be heard coming up the pipes. Divers first headed into the tunnels over the weekend but found high, murky water and emerged empty-handed.

As the water level continued to drop, rescuers with rubber rafts squeezed through the narrow, low-ceilinged passages late Sunday and pulled out the first nine survivors just after midnight. Eleven hours later, the large wave of rescues began.

The rescuers then scrambled to understand the complicated situation underground and send down packages of glucose, milk and letters of encouragement. One read: "Dear fellow workers, the Party Central Committee, the State Council and the whole nation have been concerned for your safety all the time.... You must have confidence and hold on to the last!"

Survivors were then brought out from a working platform, where rescuers had drilled a vertical hole last week.

As the rafts approached the first trapped miners, one of them asked, "Can you get me out of here?"

The miners had spent eight days underground and some were soaked through. Some had hung from shaft walls by their belts for days to avoid falling into the water when asleep. Later, they climbed into a mining cart that floated by.

One miner described eating sawdust and tree bark and drinking the murky water, the leader of one of the rescue teams, Chen Yongheng, told a news conference Monday afternoon.

Liu Qiang, a medical officer involved in the rescue, said the survivors had hypothermia, severe dehydration and skin infections from being in the water so long. Some also were in shock and had low blood pressure.

Over the weekend, China was on public holiday for the traditional "tomb sweeping" festival, when people mourn their dead kin. The spectacle of the rescue has captured nationwide interest.

"As long as there's one percent of hope, we will still make a 100 percent effort," said Huang Yi, a spokesman for the national mine safety authority, according to Chinese television news.

Families of the survivors were thrilled. "He called and managed to say my sister's nickname, 'Xiaomi,' so we know it's really him and that he's alive," said Long Liming, who said he received a call around midday from his rescued brother-in-law Fu Ziyang.

A doctor then took the phone and said Fu had to rest, Long said. "He was trapped underground for so long, so he's very weak. But we are very relieved to know that he made it out safely."

In a sign of government concerns over possible social unrest, family members of the trapped miners said they have been kept under close watch in hotels and are not allowed to leave unless accompanied by minders.

Ignored water leaks?
It was unclear Monday how deep into the mine the rescued workers had been found.

"The miners in the lowest levels will be in the most extreme danger," Feickert said. "Just think of a tall building, with people on different floors, if that suddenly filled up with water."

A preliminary investigation last week found that the mine's managers ignored water leaks before the accident, the State Administration of Work Safety said.

Strong demand for energy and lax safety standards have made China's mines often deadly places to work, despite the government's drive to clamp down on small, unsafe operations where most accidents occur.

The number of people killed in Chinese coal mines dropped to 2,631 in 2009, an average of seven a day, from 3,215 in 2008, according to official statistics.

China has ordered the consolidation or takeover of many private mines. It says the shutdown of many of the most dangerous private operations has helped cut accidents.

But the worst accidents are not limited to private firms. The Wangjialing mine was a project belonging to a joint venture between China National Coal Group and Shanxi Coking Coal Group, two of China's larger state-owned firms.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Coal miners trapped

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  1. A rescued miner is taken out of the flooded Wangjialing coal mine in Xiangning, north China's Shanxi Province, on Monday, April 5. More than 100 Chinese miners were pulled out alive after being trapped for over a week in the flooded coal mine, where some ate sawdust and strapped themselves to the shafts' walls with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept. (Yan Yan / Xinhua via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A coal miner rescued from the Wangjialing Coal Mine is rushed into a hospital in the town of Hejing on April 5. The miners were in their eighth day underground when rescuers were finally able to reach them. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Residents wait for the arrival of miners rescued from the Wangjialing Coal Mine on April 5. Of the 153 initially trapped, there are still 38 miners in the shaft. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A survivor receives medical treatment at a hospital after being rescued from the flooded Wangjialing Coal Mine on April 5, 2010. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Health workers wait for the arrival of miners rescued from the Wangjialing Coal Mine at the entrance to a hospital in the town of Hejing in north China's Shanxi province on April 5. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rescuers carry survivors at the entrance of the flooded Wangjialing Coal Mine on April 5. At least 114 miners have been pulled alive from a flooded coal mine after more than seven days trapped in the pitch dark, prompting cheers from officials who hailed the rescue a miracle. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Ambulance cars line up at the entrance of the flooded Wangjialing Coal Mine on April 5. (Donald Chan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A survivor is rescued from the flooded Wangjialing Coal Mine early on Monday, April 5. (Xinhua / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ambulances line up at the site of the mine accident near Hejin, China, on April 4. (Jason Lee / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Water gushes from pipelines used to remove water from the flooded mine. (Donald Chan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A rescuer washes himself on April 1 after working at the accident site. (Jason Lee / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Rescuers prepare to go down into the mine on March 31. (Donald Chan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A miner participating in the rescue efforts pauses at the site on April 1. (Jason Lee / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Mine workers prepare to send equipment down the entrance to the Wangjialing coal mine. China's work safety watchdog has blamed lax standards at the coal mine for the huge flood. Rescuers have not seen any signs of life from the pit. (Peter Parks / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Paramilitary policemen walk near the flooded mine, where angry relatives have gathered calling for more action and answers. (Shaw Du / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rescuers take a break from the round-the-clock battle to rescue the trapped miners. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A relative of a trapped coal mine worker gestures to the police outside the flooded mine. Families and co-workers expressed anger at what they felt was the unresponsiveness of those in charge of the mine's operations and rescue efforts. (Donald Chan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A rescue worker takes a break. Heavy-duty pumps are being used in an attempt to clear the water. (Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A woman cries on Tuesday, March 30, outside the flooded Wangjialing Coal Mine, where 153 miners are trapped. Hundreds of rescuers aided by heavy-duty pumps were at work at the site in Xiangning county in northern China's Shanxi province. Families and co-workers expressed anger at what they felt was the unresponsiveness of those in charge of the mine's operations and rescue efforts. (Shaw Du / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Relatives of mine workers react to the speed of recovering efforts. Some 1,000 rescue workers were rotating on shifts to try to drain enough water to reach the trapped miners, but the rescue effort could take days, and there had been no communication with the trapped miners. (Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Rescuers are shown during operations to free the miners, who were trapped deep underground. They were digging a new mine and may accidentally have broken into a network of old, water-filled shafts. (Chinafotopress / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Workers reported underground water leaks days before a flood coursed through the Wangjialing coal mine in northern China. (Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Rescuers stand during a break at the Wangjialing mine. (Stringer Shanghai / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Rescuers prepare pipes to pump water from the mine on March 29. (China Daily / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Mine workers look on as rescuers unload metal pipes on March 29. (Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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