Chinese rescue teams say it may be more than two weeks until they can save a group of miners from being trapped hundreds of meters underground.
They have been stranded since the closure of the entry tunnel at the Huashan gold mine in Shandong province on 10 January.
Authorities made contact with 11 surviving miners a week after the explosion, but one was killed.
Rescuers have drilled small holes to supply food and medicine to the men.
The cause of the explosion that sealed the mine’s entry is still not known.
The fate of the other 11 miners trapped by the blast is not clear – authorities have been unable to communicate with them despite the food and messaging in other areas of the mine.
The group found alive told the rescue team that they had established communication with a lone miner about 100 meters below them, but had since lost contact with him.
How will rescue work go?
Currently, the rescue operation is trying to widen a narrow shaft so that it can be enlarged to take out the miners.
However, drilling is proving difficult as it needs to get through particularly hard granite and the miners are trapped far away from the surface. Rescuers are facing an additional problem that there is waterlogging in the mine and there may be flooding in the mine.
“The hurdles are huge, which means we need at least 15 days or so to reach the miners,” said Gong Hetao, deputy head of the local publicity department.
He said the debris standing on the way weighs about 70 tonnes.
How did they get stuck?
The entry into the mine was badly damaged and communication was cut off by a hitherto unexplained explosion.
For a week, there was no sign of life. Then, last Sunday, the rescue team felt a stretch on one of the ropes they were lowering into small shafts that were going down in the dark.
A paper note was sent on a rope from a group of 12 living miners – 11 stranded in one place and one 12th on the bottom.
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Since then, contact has been lost with the 12th miner, while one of the 11, who fell into a coma after sustaining a head wound in the explosion, was confirmed dead on Thursday.
Mining accidents are not uncommon in China, where industry safety regulations may be poorly enforced. In December last year, 23 miners were killed after a carbon monoxide leak at a coal mine.
In September, 16 workers died at another mine on the outskirts of Chongqing, also due to carbon monoxide. In December 2019, an explosion in a coal mine in southwest China’s Guizhou province killed at least 14 people.
How are the miners doing?
The group of 10 known survivors is trapped in the darkness of about 600 meters (2,000 ft). They are in regular contact with the rescue teams.
A communication line has been established and food and medicine can be lowered to them through a narrow shaft.
While they continue to get oatmeal and nutritional fluids, the miners asked for a traditional meal of sausage a few days ago.
Eight of them are believed to do well, while two are in poor health.
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