BEIJING – Rescuers pulled seven injured miners to the surface Friday and were trying to reach 50 others trapped after a cave-in at a coal mine in central China, state media reported.
Four miners were killed when the cave-in blasted rock into the mine shaft Thursday evening and 14 managed to escape, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The rock explosion happened just after a small earthquake shook near the mine in the city of Sanmenxia in Henan province.
State broadcaster CCTV showed rescuers with helmets and oxygen tanks carrying the seven found alive Friday afternoon from a mine elevator as waiting officials applauded and medical staff rushed to attend to them.
The rescued miners lay on stretchers, wrapped with blankets with their eyes covered by towels to prevent them from being damaged by the sudden exposure to light after hours of being trapped.
Xinhua said six had minor injuries but one was seriously hurt.
At least 200 workers were digging a small rescue tunnel about 1,650 feet (500 meters) deep to try to reach the trapped miners, the People's Daily newspaper said. There have been no reports of communication with the trapped miners.
The mine belongs to Yima Coal Group, a large state-owned coal company in Henan, the State Administration of Work Safety said on its website.
Luo Lin, head of the administration, said a magnitude-2.9 earthquake occurred near the mine shortly before a "rock burst" was reported.
The phenomenon occurs when settling earth bears down on mine walls and causes a sudden release of stored energy. The exploding chunks of coal and rock, or the shock waves alone, can be lethal.
Survival depends on the intensity of the rock explosion and if ventilation can be provided, a local official told The Associated Press.
"If it was not very strong, it might have caused the tunnel to get narrower, but we might still be able to send some air in there to ensure ventilation," said the Yima city Communist Party's head of propaganda, who would give only his surname, Tian, as is common with Chinese officials.
"But if the impact was pretty strong and caused the tunnel walls to collapse, then the ventilation was probably cut off immediately, suffocating the people trapped there," he said.
Tian said it was difficult to determine how deep in the mine the trapped workers were.
According to Xinhua, workers were digging a tunnel about 2,500 feet (760 meters) long, but after the rock burst, the tunnel appeared to have "basically folded" a little more than halfway down the passage, at 1,580 feet (480 meters). It was unclear what the condition of the tunnel was beyond that point, Xinhua said.
China's coal mines are the deadliest in the world, although the industry's safety record has improved in recent years as smaller, illegal mines have been closed. Annual fatalities are now about one-third of the high of nearly 7,000 in 2002.
Last Sunday, a gas explosion at a coal mine in central China's Hunan province killed 29 workers, the worst accident in recent months.