Rescuers raced Monday to free 153 coal miners trapped by a flood that may have started when workers digging a new mine in northern China accidentally broke into a network of old, water-filled shafts.
Such derelict tunnels are posing new risks to miners across China even as the country ramps up safety in its notoriously hazardous mines, where accidents kill thousands each year.
Rescuers raced to pump water from the Wangjialing coal mine in north China's Shanxi province that started flooding Sunday afternoon, officials said. The state-owned mine about 400 miles (650 kilometers) southwest of Beijing was under construction and had been scheduled to start production later this year, the China Daily newspaper reported.
The accident could be one of the worst mining disasters in recent years if rescue efforts fail and would set back marked improvements in mining safety.
Some 261 workers were inside the mine when it flooded, and 108 escaped or were rescued, China's State Administration of Work Safety said in a statement on its Web site early Monday.
Fan Leisheng, one of the miners who escaped, described the sudden rush of water that tore through the mine, The Associated Press reported.
According to The Money Times, the accident occurred at 2.30 pm on Sunday afternoon at construction site of the Wangjialing coalmine in Shanxi province.
At the moment of disaster, 261 miners were working in the shaft when suddenly the tunnels were flooded when a network of old water-filled shafts were accidently ruptured.