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Sounds of life heard from trapped Chinese miners

BEIJING - Rescuers cheered Friday after hearing faint signs of life - tapping noises, and possibly shouting - from a flooded Chinese coal mine where 153 workers have been trapped for more than five days.

Footage on state-run China Central Television showed rescuers tapping on pipes with a wrench, then cheering and jumping after hearing a response. They lowered pens and paper, along with glucose and milk, down metal pipes to the spot where the tapping was heard.

About 3,000 rescuers were working nonstop to pump water out of the Wangjialing mine, which government officials say flooded Sunday afternoon when workers digging tunnels broke into an old shaft filled with water. But experts said it could still take days to reach the miners - and their survival depended on whether they had decent air to breathe and clean water to drink.

"They're doing probably the only thing they can do, which is to pump water as fast as they possibly can," said David Feickert, a coal mine safety adviser to the Chinese government. He said some mines have rescuers trained as divers for cases like this. "But from the sound of it, there's too much water in this mine and they're not sure where people are."

The flood was one of three coal mine accidents in China this week. A gas explosion Wednesday in the central province of Henan killed 19 and left 24 trapped, and nine people died Thursday in northwestern Shaanxi province.

The signs of possible life gave hope to the miners' relatives.

"I'm so happy to hear the news . . .," Tang Yinfeng, whose brother-in-law is trapped, said by phone Friday night. "The rescue work is much faster than before. We're grateful for their effort."

The 153 workers were believed to be trapped on nine different platforms in the mine, which was flooded with up to 37 million gallons of water, the equivalent of more than 55 Olympic swimming pools, state television has reported.

A preliminary investigation found that the mine's managers had ignored water leaks from the abandoned mine, the State Administration of Work Safety said.

"Water leaks were found numerous times in underground shafts," but the mine's managers "did not take the actions necessary to evacuate people," it said.

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