Rescuers drilled three more canals on Tuesday as they raced against the clock to extract the 22 workers.
Workers trapped in a Chinese gold mine for more than nine days have received more medical and food supplies, including bandages, blankets and rice porridge, but one of the group is in critical condition with a serious head injury, state media said.
A total of 22 workers were left trapped in the Hushan mine in Shandong province after an explosion on January 10.
A week later, it emerged that at least 12 of them were still alive as a note taken from the mine said, “We hope the rescue doesn’t stop.”
A channel drilled on Sunday located 11 of the miners, who were working more than 600 meters (1,968 feet) underground and rescuers were then able to speak to them via a landline phone.
But progress in the rescue has been slow, according to Chen Fei, a senior city official.
“The surrounding rock near the ore deposit is mostly granite… which is very hard, which slows the progress of the rescue,” Chen told reporters.
“There is a lot of water in the well which can present a danger to trapped workers.”
Chen said the current food supply was only sufficient for two days.
‘Please speed up the rescue’
Rescuers drilled three more channels on Tuesday, according to a rescue map posted on the Yantai government’s official Weibo account, a Chinese version of Twitter.
More than 300 people are involved in the rescue effort and excavators and machinery are on site, but crews have warned that it will be extremely difficult to get the miners out of the tunnel entrance.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency said the miners asked for sausages and pickles as well as porridge on Monday evening, but medical experts decided they shouldn’t eat hard food after just regaining their strength.
Fortified by food and medical supplies – the fourth shipment to reach the group – two workers who were previously very weak were able to walk again on Tuesday, Xinhua reported, citing a member of the rescue team.
However, the national People’s Daily newspaper said one worker was in a coma and in critical condition after suffering a head injury in the blast, while two were “mildly ill” and eight in good health.
Another worker has been located in another section of the mine, while the fate of the other 10 remains unknown.
The news that some of the miners are still alive has boosted Chinese netizens’ hopes for a miraculous escape, with thousands leaving prayer messages on Weibo and calling on authorities to “speed up the rescue.”
China’s National Mine Safety Administration has ordered a full inspection of the country’s coal mines, which will continue until the end of March, the People’s Daily reported.
There are 32,000 non-coal mines in China, most of which are small, use outdated technology and equipment, and have poor security management, he said, citing an administration official.