BEIJING - Rescuers are desperately pumping water from a coal mine in northern China, after one miner died and 31 were trapped by a flood at a state-owned mine.
The Luotoushan mine, owned by a unit of China's largest state-owned coal miner Shenhua Group, was still under construction when water gushed in on Monday, forcing miners to scramble for their lives.
China has been consolidating small and private coal mines in part to improve their appalling safety record, while state-owned mining firms are considered better qualified to implement safety and accident-prevention measures at large-scale mines.
I turned my head away and just ran forwards. As I was running I bumped into the others and I said 'there's water over there, we cannot go up here, we have to go up over there', said miner Zhao Shibo, one of 46 who managed to escape the floodwaters, in a hospital interview with state television.
The water was up to here, he said, gesturing to his neck.
We jumped into the water and were soaked, as we climbed up the water continued to rise.
Media reports said 12 miners were trapped at about 189 metres while another 19 are trapped at about 289 metres underground. Rescue workers have set up two pump systems to drain the water and are installing a third, but efforts are hampered as the exact location of the miners is not known, state media reported, citing experts at the site.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao ordered rescue efforts to continue as quickly as possible to save the trapped miners. The accident occurred shortly before the annual meeting of China's legislature this week.
The Luotoushan, or Camel Head Mountain, mine is designed to produce 1.5 million tonnes of coal per year. It is in Wuhai, Inner Mongolia, a relatively new coal mining region.
Strong demand for energy and lax safety standards have made China's mines the most dangerous in the world, despite the government's drive to clamp down on tiny, unsafe operations where most accidents occur.
The number of people who died in Chinese coal mines dropped to 2,631 in 2009, an average of seven a day, from 3,215 in 2008, according to official statistics.
(Reporting by Lucy Hornby)