The number of workers trapped by flooding in an unfinished Chinese coal mine has risen to 153, state media reported, in what could be one of the worst disasters to hit the deadly industry in recent years.
Some 108 men were lifted to safety when water surged into a pit that was still under construction on Sunday afternoon, the official Xinhua agency reported, quoting rescue headquarters at the Wangjialing Coal Mine in northern Shanxi province.
Dozens of rescuers lined up in the grey light of dawn on Monday to enter the mine in hopes of finding survivors or recovering bodies. Some of the rescuers carried huge segments of pipe for pumping out water.
Officials are still checking the number of workers trapped. They had originally put the figure at 123.
Most of the 261 workers believed to have been underground at the time of the accident were migrants, some from as far away as southern Hunan and Guizhou provinces, with no better employment options than the wages offered by the risky mining industry.
China has the world's deadliest coal-mining industry, with more than 3,000 people killed in mine floods, explosions, collapses and other accidents in 2008 alone. (For a factbox on some of the world's worst mining accidents, please see [ID:nLDE62I20Q])
A gas blast at a coal pit in northeastern China in November killed at least 104 miners, while 74 died in an explosion in February at another mine in Shanxi, a coal-rich area.
After the February blast, provincial governor Wang Jun, who had been promoted to the post after campaigning to reduce mine deaths as the head of the State Administration of Work Safety, broke down while apologising to the families of victims.
Compared with other manual jobs, Chinese coal miners can earn relatively high wages, tempting workers and farmers to take jobs in rickety and poorly ventilated shafts.
Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, an unusually senior official, has gone to the Wangjialing mine to supervise rescue operations personally, and ensure they do not trigger a second disaster.
The mine covers an area of around 180 sq km near the heavily polluted mining hub of Linfen.
Affiliated to state-owned Huajin Coking Coal Co. Ltd., it is a major government-approved project and is expected to produce about 6 million tonnes of coal a year when it comes on line.
A majority of Chinese mining accidents have occurred in small operations and a campaign in recent years to close thousands of such pits has helped cut the industry's annual death toll.
But demand for coal to fuel the country's strong economic growth means some reopen illegally or flout official rules, and there have also been some accidents at larger outfits.