Wed, Jan 02, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Families of trapped miners losing hope

‘RAT-HOLE MINING’:The Indian government stepped up an operation to rescue at least 15 miners trapped since Dec. 13, even as hopes fade that they would still be alive

Reuters, GUWAHATI, India

Relatives of at least 15 Indian miners trapped in a “rat-hole” mine for 18 days on Monday said they have given up hope that any of them would be found alive, even as rescue operations were stepped up.

“We want his body back so that we can give him a decent burial,” said the uncle of 26-year old Omar Ali, one of the trapped miners.

The miners were trapped on Dec. 13, when an illegal mine in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, was flooded.

Thousands of workers, including children, have been killed in so-called rat-hole mining, which involves miners crawling into narrow shafts on bamboo ladders to mine for low-quality coal, in Meghalaya.

The state banned unregulated mining in 2014, but it still goes on in some places.

A survivor of the disaster, Sayeb Ali, 24, said he too thought there was little chance of anyone coming out alive.

He said that 17 miners were trapped in the accident. It was not clear why his figure differed from the government account of 15 miners.

Sayeb Ali said he survived because he was not deep inside the very narrow mine shaft when disaster struck.

“The people who were digging coal went deep inside and cart-pullers like me and the other four who survived were about 8 to 10 feet [2.4m to 3m] inside,” Sayeb Ali, who is not related to Omar Ali, said by telephone.

Officials said the navy on Sunday sent 15 divers with cameras and specialist equipment into the mine in an attempt to reach the bottom of the pit.

The remotely controlled probe was the latest initiative in the increasingly desperate search for the men.

“The problem is there is murky water that entered the rat-hole pit from a nearby river,” Santosh Kumar Singh, an official with the National Disaster Response Force, told reporters.

Authorities have been struggling to pump out water from the 115m deep mine so that divers can approach the area where the men are believed to be.

“The navy will commence diving again once the water level is brought down,” East Jaintia Hills District Deputy Commissioner Federick Dopth told reporters.

Rescuers said there has been no sign of life, but insist it is still possible the miners might have found an air pocket.

Additional reporting by AFP

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