Xiangning, China: Chinese rescuers on Tuesday pulled five bodies from a flooded coal mine a day after the "miracle" rescue of 115 fellow miners who survived a week underground for a week by eating bark and drinking filthy water.
Officials said 153 miners were trapped in the unfinished Wangjialing mine in Xiangning, in the northern province of Shanxi, when water gushed in more than a week ago.
At least 115 survivors were rescued late on Sunday and on Monday, with media and officials hailing a "miracle" that came on a national holiday to honor the dead. The five bodies are the first known casualties, but 33 men are still missing.
The survivors clung on to life in the pitch black pit, eating sawdust and bark from the pine supports used in the mine to sustain themselves and some taking small sips of the dank and dirty water that surrounded them.
Rescuers braved the floodwaters and fluctuating mine gas once officials deemed a week of frantic pumping had lowered water levels enough to make a rescue possible. Tapping sounds on a pipe on Friday had raised hopes some miners were still alive.
"We reached 200 meters underground by raft only to find that there was not enough space for the raft to continue as the water level was too high. So we jumped into the water, swam toward the trapped miners, and pulled them out," said rescuer Wang Kai.
It was rare good news for China`s perilous coal mining industry, the deadliest in the world with thousands killed every year in floods, explosions, collapses and other accidents. Shanxi province is the heartland of the coal industry.
Survivors were brought out from a platform, where rescuers had drilled a vertical hole last week. The hole ensured oxygen in the water-flooded pit while rescuers sent down bags of glucose.
Most of the rescued miners were in a stable condition, but suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and skin infections, and 26 were in a "relatively serious" condition, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Sixty were being transferred to larger hospitals in the provincial capital Taiyuan, the report added.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were "deeply worried" about the miners, the Xinhua report said. "The rescuers at the front must continue to foster the spirit of not being scared of exhaustion and to keep fighting, step up rescue efforts, and work all out ... to do whatever is possible to save the remaining miners," it quoted them as saying.
Workers are tempted into hazardous jobs in China`s mines by wages that can be much higher than for many other jobs open to blue-collar workers and rural migrants.
Strong demand for energy and lax safety standards have made China`s mines often deadly places to work, despite a government drive to clamp down on small, unsafe operations where most accidents occur.
The number of people killed 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.
China has ordered the consolidation or takeover of many private mines. It says the shutdown of many of the most dangerous private operations has helped cut accidents.
But the deadliest accidents are not limited to private firms. The Wangjialing mine was a project belonging to a joint venture between China National Coal Group and Shanxi Coking Coal Group, two of China`s larger state-owned firms.
"We demand the company get prepared for an investigation ... and provide real technical data and basic information for it," said Liu Dezheng, a Shanxi provincial mining official.