Rescuers battled yesterday to reach more than 170 miners trapped underground by flash flooding in eastern China, but officials warned the men had little chance of survival.
Heavy rains triggered flooding that breached a river levee and sent water cascading into the mine in Shandong Province via an old shaft, Xinhua news agency reported.
Wang Ziqi (王子奇), director of the Shandong Coal Mine Safety Administration Board, said the trapped men had only a slim chance of survival and relatives said they were expecting the worst.
"There are very slim chances for them to survive because it has been flooded and it is very difficult pump out the water," a relative of a miner at the colliery surnamed Liu said in Beijing.
Liu, whose husband was involved in the rescue effort, said: "The relatives of people trapped have been waiting all night at the front door of the site."
Officials said 756 miners had been underground when the water swept in. Of those, 584 had been rescued, leaving 172 trapped.
They said another nine people were trapped in a nearby mine after similar flooding, while 86 were able to escape.
The flooding on Friday afternoon followed hours of downpours and rescue work was hampered by further rain that fell during the evening and yesterday.
Senior officials from China's State Administration of Work Safety rushed to oversee rescue efforts at the Zhangzhuang Mine in Xintai, 450km south of Beijing.
Xinhua said 2,000 troops, armed police and miners had closed the breach in the Wen River levee.
The authorities ordered all mines in the area to stop work, while the work safety watchdog issued an emergency notice urging all mines to take preventive measures against possible flooding caused by the heavy rains.
China's coal mines are the most dangerous in the world and fatal accidents happen almost every day.
More than 4,700 workers died last year, official figures show, but independent labour groups put the real toll at up to 20,000 annually.
On Friday, 14 miners in Jiangxi Province were rescued after being trapped in a flooded pit for more than a day, Xinhua reported earlier.
It was the second lucky escape for Chinese miners this month. On Aug. 1, 69 men were trapped in a flooded mine in central Henan Province for more than three days before being pulled out alive.
China has been investigating thousands of cases of unlicensed mining and closing down the notoriously dangerous smaller mines in an attempt to reduce deaths.
The problem is that even as small mines are being closed down, new ones are being opened at a rapid pace.
Small mines, defined as those with annual production below 300,000 tonnes, make up 82.9 percent of all mines under construction, officials said.
China had set a target of slashing the number of smaller coal mines from the existing 24,000 to 10,000 by 2010.
But officials have said that this goal is very unlikely to be met as a large number of new small mines are established.
Coal accounts for some 70 percent of the nation's primary energy consumption, more than 40 percentage points higher than the world average.