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Navy Divers Unable to Enter Meghalaya Rat-Hole Mine, Families Say At Least Retrieve Bodies for Last Rites

The NDRF said preparatory exercises have been carried out and rescue efforts would start on Sunday, but families of at least seven of the trapped miners have given up hope.


Updated:December 30, 2018, 10:57 AM IST
Navy Divers Unable to Enter Meghalaya Rat-Hole Mine, Families Say At Least Retrieve Bodies for Last Rites
The government has spent roughly over Rs 50 lakh for hiring various utilities to rescue the trapped miners. (PTI Photo)

Shillong: Divers from the Indian Navy and the Odisha fire and rescue services who arrived from Vishakhapatnam were unable to enter the rat-hole mine in Meghalaya where 15 miners have been trapped since December 13.

East Jaintia Hills SP Silvester Nongtnger said pumps and other equipment is being installed at the site but it may take some time.

The water level is estimated to be more than 77-80 feet in the vertical shaft of the coal mine in East Jaintia Hills district, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) Assistant Commandant Santosh Kumar Singh said.

"The Navy divers and I went down inside the mine and preparatory exercises were conducted," Singh said, adding that rescue operations will start on Sunday. The operation could not start on Saturday due to technical issues concerning manpower and machineries, district officials said.

The 15-member Navy team, equipped with specialised diving equipment, arrived at the site in the remote Lumthari village on Saturday. District officials said that the Odisha Fire and Emergency Services would press their 10 high-powered pumps on Sunday to dewater the flooded mine.

They said a team of experts from the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, have also arrived on Saturday, along with an ace mine-mishap expert from Punjab, Jaswant Singh Gill, to assist in the operation.

But family members of at least seven of the trapped miners have given up hope. Shohor Ali from Magurmari village in West Garo Hills district whose son, brother and son-in-law are trapped, said he “just wants the authorities to retrieve their bodies for the last rites.” He said the three were lured into working in the rathole mine by the daily wage of 2,000.

A survivor of the December 13 accident said there is no way the trapped miners will come out alive. Sahib Ali, hailing from Assam's Chirang district, is one of the five men who narrowly escaped the flooding coal mine a fortnight ago.

Recounting the December 13 nightmare, Ali said, "All men started work early at about 5 am. By about 7 am, the entire mine was full of water." "I was about 5 to 6 feet inside the mine pulling a cart full of coal. For some unknown reasons, I could feel a breeze inside the mine which was unusual. What followed was big sound of water gushing in. I barely made it to the opening of the pit," Ali said.

"There is no way the trapped men will be alive. How long can a person hold his breath underwater?" he added.

The rescue operation has been hampered by the NDRF’s inability to lower the water level in the mine, so the divers can enter. Over the past two weeks, state agencies and NDRF have pumped out 20 lakh litres of water but the level has remained unchanged.

A senior district official said pumping of the water from the 370-foot-deep mine was yet to resume as technical experts handling the pumps were preparing for the job.

The NDRF personnel have been engaged in the operation at the mine since December 14, a day after the disaster took place.

The mine, located on top of a hillock fully covered with trees, had got flooded when water from the nearby Lytein river gushed into it on December 13, trapping the 15 diggers.

The NDRF had contradicted media reports that quoted it as saying the trapped miners were suspected to be dead on the basis of the foul odour the force's divers had smelt when they had gone inside the mine. It said the foul smell could be due to the stagnant water in the mine as pumping had been halted for more than 48 hours.

Rat-hole mining involves digging of narrow tunnels, usually three-four feet high, for workers to enter and extract coal. The horizontal tunnels are often termed "rat holes" as each just about fits one person.

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