HONG KONG — Two weeks after an explosion left a group of miners trapped 2,000 feet below ground in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, at least 11 were found alive and lifted to the surface Sunday, a bright spot after a grueling and uncertain rescue effort.
The first rescued miner was brought to the surface at 11:13 a.m. Sunday, according to officials in Yantai, a city near the small town where the mine is located. Rescue personnel applauded as he was brought to the surface, according to video broadcast by Xinhua, the state-run news agency. The miner, wearing a long green coat with his eyes wrapped in black cloth, was lifted into an ambulance and immediately taken to a hospital.
He was “extremely weak,” the Yantai city government said on an official social media account.
In the afternoon, rescuers continued bringing miners to the surface in groups of two or three. The later groups also wore eye coverings for protection after such a prolonged period without sunlight. Some were carried out, but others appeared to be in better health and able to walk with assistance.
China has some of the world’s most dangerous mines, and 573 people were killed in mine accidents last year, according to China’s National Mine Safety Administration. But experts say conditions have improved in recent years. Last year’s toll was a decline of 22% from the previous year, and for the first time since 1949 the country recorded no major coal mine gas explosions, Xinhua reported.
Still, disasters are still common. And coal mines, with noxious and explosive gases, remain deadly. At least 16 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a coal mine in southwestern China in September, and 23 were killed at a coal mine in the same city, Chongqing, in December.
Gold mining, by contrast, is generally safer but not without risks.
The Jan. 10 blast at the Hushan gold mine near Yantai trapped 22 miners. On Jan. 17, rescue workers were able to make contact through a narrow, drilled channel. A note sent up by the miners said that 11 were trapped in one section, one in another and 10 were unaccounted for. Four were injured, and all were suffering from exhaustion in the wet and smoky tunnels.
“Hope that the rescue will not stop,” they wrote. “We have hope, thank you!”
On Wednesday, one of the miners died of head injuries sustained in the explosion, the state news media reported.
In addition to several holes bored to deliver supplies and search for missing miners, rescuers began drilling a shaft to rescue survivors. Work on the main rescue shaft was expected to take at least 15 days because of tons of rubble blocking the route, officials said Thursday.
But Sunday, officials said that work on the rescue shaft had progressed much faster than expected.
The first miner who was rescued Sunday was in a separate tunnel from the other 10 known to still be alive underground. That main group has been receiving food, water, medicine, clothing and other supplies through boreholes.