Scuffles broke out between relatives and security forces at a coal mine in eastern China yesterday as hopes faded for the rescue of 172 miners trapped underground by flash floods.
Flood waters engulfed the mine in the city of Xintai in Shandong Province on Friday in the latest tragedy to strike China's mining industry, which has one of the poorest safety records in the world.
A crowd of 200 people, angry at the lack of information, toppled an iron fence at the south gate of the mine early yesterday as rumors swirled that rescue efforts had been called off.
Frustration boiled over and relatives repeatedly broke into the compound of the Zhangzhuang Mine where clashes ensued with security personnel.
"I heard they stopped pumping out water from the mine. It is the same as saying they have given up," said Zhou Feng, 25, whose father is trapped.
However, officials said the rescue operation was still ongoing.
Li Yizhong (
"But the pumping operation is already underway," he said at the disaster site.
A senior official from the Shandong provincial government, however, admitted that many of the missing workers had yet to be located.
"We are doing the best we can," Shandong Province Secretary-General Zhang Dekuan (
"At the moment we are trying to locate where the majority of the missing miners are and we will concentrate our efforts in that direction," he said.
China's coal mines are some of 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 labor groups put the toll at up to 20,000 annually, saying many accidents are covered up.
Heartbreaking scenes played out as relatives desperate for news asked to be let inside the mine compound, only to be turned down by stone-faced officials.
"Save my little brother. Get him out," screamed 54-year-old Li Xuehua as she was propped up by two relatives.
Nineteen-year-old Zhou Jun traveled more than 200km from Qingdao to be close to his trapped father, but the teen collapsed and was rushed to hospital when he received no news.
At the west gate, another crowd of relatives scuffled with uniformed police and some threw rocks at the main administration building.
No injuries were reported, but witnesses said the mood was ugly.
Torrential rains triggered flooding on Friday that breached a river levee and sent water cascading into the mine via an old shaft in Xintai, some 450km south of Beijing, Xinhua news agency said.
More than 750 miners were underground when the water swept in and many managed to escape, but some 172 remained trapped. Another nine were trapped in a nearby mine after similar flooding.
Xinhua said rescue teams battled all day on Saturday to reach the men after Chinese President Hu Jintao (
But officials said there was little hope for the trapped men and there appeared to be few signs of further rescue activity.