`Little hope' for trapped Indian miners

RESCUE ATTEMPT: A mine official said that some of the workers might be trapped as far down as 800m and that rescue teams had reached three-fourths of the way there

AFP , RANCHI, INDIA

Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 5

Several dead workers were pulled from a coal mine collapse in eastern India and there is "little hope" for the rest of more than 50 miners trapped underground, officials said yesterday.

Rescuers had not made contact with the missing and it was not immediately clear how many dead had been found at the Bhatdih colliery after a suspected gas explosion there late on Wednesday, they said.

"The rescue teams have found some of the bodies and the operation is still on," said Bila Rajesh, deputy commissioner of the district where the accident occurred late on Wednesday. "We are still hopeful, but hopes [for their survival] are very little now."

The chief of state-run Bharat Coking Coal, which operates the mine west of the Jharia coalfields in mineral-rich Jharkand State, said he had no information about the condition of the miners.

"We can't say anything about the state of the trapped miners," managing director Partho Bhattacharya told reporters. "We can just pray for their safety."

Another company official in charge of the mine where the accident occurred said that rescue teams were trying two approaches to the underground area.

"The rescue operation is going from two different directions and a dozen rescue units have been pressed into service," said S.B. Chakravorty, estimating that at least 50 people were trapped at the Bhatdih Colliery. "With passing of time things will become difficult for them."

Local superintendent of police Baljit Singh said as many as 54 miners were trapped.

An official at a control room set up at the coal company's headquarters said that some of the miners might be trapped as far down as 800m and that rescue workers had reached three-fourths of the way there.

The explosion late on Wednesday ignited a fire which had been extinguished but rescuers had not yet managed to reach the trapped miners or make contact with them since the accident occurred, he added.

Television cameras showed hundreds of locals, including relatives, rescue workers and fellow mine workers, gathered around the site of the accident.

Managing director Bhattacharya told an Indian news channel that a rescue attempt was initially delayed because of the need to ensure the safety of the rescue team.

"After the explosion the mine was still blocked so naturally we would not like to put our rescue teams in without ventilation," he said on Times Now television.

"The mine was filled with carbon monoxide and methane gas, which was a danger for the rescue operation but now ventilation has been enhanced," he added.

The explosion in the state's Dhanbad district could have been caused by leaking gas, police officer V.D. Ram told reporters from the provincial capital Ranchi.