BEIJING (AP) – Struggling 1,000 feet below ground, rescuers drew close Saturday to a section of a collapsed mine shaft where they hoped to find 71 coal miners missing in a gas explosion. The number of confirmed dead rose to 77.

Managers of another mine, meanwhile, were detained for trying to hide the scale of a flood that left 29 people missing.

For a second straight day, Chinese newspapers were filled with photos of rescuers in grimy overalls trudging into the Daping Mine in the central province of Henan as weeping children and wives of missing miners waited outside.

The 1,000-member rescue team hasn’t found a miner alive since the blast Wednesday – the deadliest disaster this year in China’s accident-plagued coal mines.

Rescuers were nearing the spot where missing miners were believed to be, but Song Jiancheng, the chief rescue official, said “survival chances for the trapped are quite slim,” the government’s Xinhua News Agency reported.

The site is 1,000 feet below the surface and two miles from the entrance of the vast mine, Xinhua said.

The state-owned mine employs 4,100 people and is located in the Songshan Mountains, about 25 miles southwest of the major industrial city of Zhengzhou.

On Friday, anxious relatives scuffled briefly with guards outside the mine gates, demanding information on the search.

Rescue attempts have been hampered by the high density of gas in the air and debris from the collapsed shaft, Xinhua said.

China’s coal mines are the world’s deadliest, with 4,153 people reported killed in the first nine months of this year in fires, floods and other disasters. Explosions often are blamed on lack of required ventilation equipment.

Also Saturday, rescuers were searching for 29 coal miners trapped since Wednesday by flooding in the Desheng Mine in the northern city of Wu’an in Hebei province.

Nine managers were detained for trying to conceal the scale of the accident, Xinhua said Saturday. It said they initially reported just six people missing, admitting that many more were involved only after police were informed by townspeople.

Officials in Hebei issued an emergency order to inspect safety measures at every coal mine in the province in order to prevent flooding and explosions, Xinhua said.

In an unrelated accident, 12 coal miners were killed by an underground explosion in the southwestern region of Chongqing, the government’s industrial safety agency said.

The bigger blast Wednesday in Henan ripped through the Daping Mine as 446 miners were at work, according to the government. It said 298 escaped alive.

Most of the dead were suffocated by toxic gas that spewed from the coal bed and ignited, state media reported.



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