Relief teams rescued 11 miners trapped hundreds of meters deep in a gold mine in eastern China for two weeks on Sunday, while a race against time is fought to save the remaining ten.
The first of the miners was brought to the surface at 11:00 am (03:00 GMT), state television CCTV reported.
Throughout the day, another ten workers were rescued.
The situation of the miners and the rescue operation carried out generates enormous excitement and media attention throughout the country.
This rapid progress in rescue operations was made possible by the sudden release of a mine ventilation shaft, according to the Chinese press agency Xinhua, citing the command center for those operations.
The first of the rescued miners, “physically weak,” was taken to a hospital, CCTV said.
After the rescue of these 11 miners, there were still ten more trapped on Sunday afternoon since the explosion that occurred on January 10 at this Qixia gold mine in Shandong province (east).
Rescuers have been trying for two weeks to rescue workers blocked several hundred meters underground, and threatened by rising waters.
One of the trapped miners died last week from injuries he had sustained.
The deflagration clogged the ventilation shaft and damaged the cable car that allowed the miners to rise to the surface.
– Obstacles fall –
On Sunday morning, the huge obstacles blocking the shaft fell to the bottom, making it easier “for the miners to be brought up” to the surface and for drilling operations to be suspended.
Public television images initially showed a huge drilling rig lifting a wheelbarrow with lifeguards and a man wearing a mask on Sunday, who seemed unable to stand.
This first miner was found when rescuers were trying to reach a group of ten miners. A contact had been established a week ago with these, trapped about 580 meters deep. Another miner in this group died from injuries caused by the explosion.
Thanks to a metallic cable that was introduced through a conduit drilled in the rock, the rescuers were able to send food, medicine and telephones to this group of miners found.
The footage then showed rescuers extracting the other miners, who were wearing dark glasses to protect themselves from the light. One of them had joined hands and seemed to be praying.
The drilling operations had been complicated by the geological structure of the soil, made up of particularly hard rocks such as granite.
Relief teams had estimated on Friday that it would take at least two weeks to free all the workers despite the frantic pace of drilling.
Although mine safety has improved considerably in recent decades, there are still many accidents in China where safety measures are often ignored.
In December, 23 miners lost their lives in a coal mine in Chongqing (southwest).
lxc / axn / teacher / af-me / pc