Heavy rains slow search for 69 trapped Chinese coal miners

Heavy rains Monday have hampered efforts to save 69 miners trapped for more than 24 hours in a flooded coal mine in central China, a state-run news agency reported.

Thirty-three miners escaped but the 69 were trapped when the flood struck the Zhijian mine in Henan province's Shan County early Sunday, the Xinhua News Agency said, citing an unidentified county official.

The latest downpour Monday triggered landslides on both sides of the mountain road leading to the mine. The rain and heavy fog also reduced visibility to 15 meters (yards) and two trucks carrying relief materials were stranded on the road for hours, Xinhua said.

"The rescue operation is going on in an orderly way and the most important task is to try every effort to pump water (out)," one rescue official was quoted as saying.

The report gave no indication whether any of the miners were still alive. The mine incorrectly reported earlier that 70 miners were trapped, Xinhua said.

The state-owned mine has a designed annual output capacity of 210,000 tons, but actually produces 300,000 tons a year, Xinhua said.

China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with fatalities reported nearly every day in fires, explosions and floods despite government efforts to improve safety.

Deadly accidents often are blamed on mine owners who disregard safety rules and fail to invest in required ventilation, fire control and other equipment.

In another area of northern China, five coal mine managers were sentenced last week to up to life in prison for an explosion that killed 26 miners. Authorities said the managers kept the mine running in defiance of orders to close.