Trapped miners eat coal dust for 13 days

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The Independent Online

Four Chinese miners trapped deep underground by a landslide showed remarkable endurance by surviving for 13 days on a diet of coal and leaves. Details of the escape of the men, now recovering in hospital, were given in the state media yesterday.

Four Chinese miners trapped deep underground by a landslide showed remarkable endurance by surviving for 13 days on a diet of coal and leaves. Details of the escape of the men, now recovering in hospital, were given in the state media yesterday.

The men were cut off when heavy rain on 12 August triggered landslides at a private mine near Hancheng in north China's Shaanxi province, a main coal-producing region with thousands of small, notoriously dangerous operations.

Calm thinking by 33-year-old Wang Bo saved the men. As the level of floodwater rose and fell in the main shaft, he dug holes to conserve water for drinking. The former soldier took command, and, in pitch darkness, he collected mine lamps for use only when strictly necessary, and asked his colleagues to hold on to their picks and spades. He also told them to keep still to conserve strength.

As the four sat in silence, the mental battle began. "I have two children, and my parents are over 60," Wang told reporters. "They need me. I have to stay alive for them."

The men awoke after a long sleep to realise they had gone without food for perhaps three days. Wang fetched water in his safety helmet from his makeshift sinks, then scavenged leaves and bark from branches propping up the shaft. When those scanty supplies were exhausted, the miners turned to plant matter of a more advanced vintage.

Remembering a magazine article on a miner who survived a cave-in by nibbling the black stuff, Wang selected an "egg-sized piece of coal" and"chewed carefully and swallowed slowly". Evidently the fossil fuel gave them enoughenergy to allow them to start digging their way out.

After seven days, they could hear rescuers digging down. On 24 August, after eating three lumps of coal a day, Wang and his colleagues finally saw the light of day again. So far this year, 2,700 have died in China's mines. The People's Republic mines about one-quarter of the world's coal, and has four-fifths of the world's total coal industry fatalities.

In south-western Yunnan province alone, officials say mining and factory accidents in the first half of this year claimed the lives of 1,470 people and injured 3,332. The position is so bad all rural mines have been temporarily closed, though many are likely to be reopened secretly because villagers rely heavily on them for income.

Officials have also closed Yunnan's 52 fireworks factories recently after explosions on 11 March and 4 August killed more than 80 people.

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