2 Trapped Chinese Miners Dig To Freedom

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, rescue workers lay drain pipes at a pithead of the Huayuan Mine, where 181 miners remain trapped since Friday, Aug. 17, 2007, in Xintai City, in east China's Shandong Province, Aug. 21, 2007. AP Photo/Xinhua, Xu Suhui

Two Chinese brothers clawed their way out of a collapsed coal mine after surviving underground for nearly six days, shocking grieving relatives who had burned money for the men's souls to use in the afterlife, state media said Monday.

The China Daily newspaper ran a front-page story about the Meng brothers' miraculous survival, but official reports made little mention of a mining disaster in Shandong province that left 181 workers trapped in flooded coal shafts and presumed dead.

In that accident, Chinese media has focused on efforts to pump out water: There has been no word on the fate of the miners 10 days after they became trapped when a swollen river breached a dike.

Instead, the China Daily played up a report about Meng Xianchen and Meng Xianyou, who surfaced on Friday morning after more than 130 hours trapped in an illegal mine in Beijing's Fangshan district.

The men were trapped 35 to 40 yards away from the mine entrance but clawed their way out with a pick. They had no food and little water, drinking urine to survive, the paper reported, citing the Beijing News and Beijing Times.

Grieving relatives went to the mine entrance early Friday to burn ceremonial currency for the men's souls to use in the afterlife, and left food offerings of steamed buns, cakes and canned goods, the Beijing News said Saturday.

Hours later, word was received that the brothers had tunneled out.

"Then, we were too upset to eat. Now, we are too excited to eat," their brother Meng Xianfeng was quoted as saying. The Mengs suffered kidney damage from lack of water, but had no other major injuries, doctors said.

Rescue work was halted after experts said there was no chance that the brothers from Inner Mongolia had survived, the Beijing News said. Efforts to extract them would have put rescuers at risk.

The Southern Metropolis Daily, a paper in the prosperous southern city of Guangzhou, raised doubts about the rescue efforts. The newspaper, known to test the limits of China's press restrictions, said more details should be provided about how the rescue was conducted and why it was ended.

The editorial quoted an unidentified official as saying the decision to abandon search efforts was made collectively by authorities at the rescue command center. The paper quoted the official as saying, "This collective decision was based on an industry expert's assessment that there was no way someone could survive in the mine."

In the Shandong mine flood that trapped 181 workers — 172 workers in one pit and nine in another — the official Xinhua News Agency said late Sunday that 50 million yuan ($6.6 million) had been donated for the missing miners and their families.

The mines were still far from drained after 10 days, but there has been no official announcement on the miners' fates. Officials have said China would not give up on the 181 workers.
  • Alfonso Serrano

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