15 trapped in mine, rescue mission begins

At least 15 miners are feared dead after being trapped in a private coal mine since July 6 in remote South Garo Hills district.

Over 30 miners had gone down to the 100 metre pit at Nengkhol village in Nongalbibra area. During course of their work, they accidentally punctured the wall of an abandoned mine causing highly acidic water to rush in on Friday evening, official sources said.

15 managed to escape while the rest were still inside and the rescue operation for them was stepped up today. "They (the trapped miners) were there without food and drinking water since Friday evening. Their chance of coming out alive is very thin," F D Sangma, Inspector General of Police (Western Range), said.

The district administration had engaged 10 pumps to drain the mine three days ago and that was only effort to rescue them till yesterday. But, despite that, the water level was not receding inside the pit, sources said.

Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) from Guwahati arrived on the spot late last night and began rescue operations this morning along with a district disaster management team, Deputy Commissioner R P Marak said.

The rescue effort was difficult as coal had been dug in an unscientific manner by the miners, Sangma said, adding that heavy rains were affecting the operation.

Official sources said the district administration has ordered a judicial enquiry into the incident while three persons -- the mine owner, the head labourer and another -- were arrested for causing death due to negligence.

Those who came out alive from the mine fled fearing questioning by the police, Sangma said. Mineral-rich Meghalaya does not have a mining policy and coal and other minerals are extracted using the rat-hole method, characterised by narrow stretches, without any mechanism to ensure safety of miners.

Villages in the coal belt in the state are virtually based on a network of underground trenches dug to mine coal.

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