Families of more than 180 miners trapped in flooded coal mines in eastern China and presumed dead lashed out at one of the companies yesterday, complaining it had ignored safety warnings to close.
Rescue workers were pumping water in a bid to reach 172 miners missing for four days in the Huayuan mine and nine others in a smaller mine run by another firm "despite dim hopes for anyone to survive," the Xinhua news agency reported.
The miners have been trapped since Friday afternoon when a dike collapsed, several hours after other mines in the area had pulled their workers to the surface because of flooding fears.
"The news reports say it is a natural disaster because of the rain, but the accident is because of the mine management. Every year there is flooding," said Ma Xiumei, who came with her sister to the mine headquarters in Xintai, Shandong Province, for information about their missing brother.
"If these miners are safely brought home we won't say a thing, but if it is the worst then they [the company] need to think about my younger brother's laid-off wife, his children, his aging mother," she said.
At least two other mines in the area have said that worries about unusually heavy rains had prompted them to shut down on Friday morning, raising questions about why the Huayuan Mining Co continued to operate.
The state-run China Daily also reported yesterday that relatives were complaining about "human error." It quoted one worker as saying the mine had flooded every year since 2002.
The company and local government appeared to be isolating families and pressuring them to keep their anger in check after one family attacked a Huayuan office with sticks on Monday.
Some neighborhoods with a lot of mining families have been sealed off, with plain-clothed guards keeping outsiders away. Some families have also been taken away and put up in hotels in the main center of Xintai, a 15-minute drive from the mining company offices. One person who managed to sneak away from a hotel said the families had been told not to talk to each other.
While the Ma sisters were speaking to a reporter, a woman with short-cropped hair and wearing white pants and a white shirt with a black leopard-spot pattern pulled Ma Xiumei aside.
"Don't make a big thing about this, you have to think about your brother's job," the woman said.