Rescuers in Qujing, Yunnan province, are working to free 22 coal miners who were trapped underground in a mine flood on Monday, local authorities said.
At 4:50 am, a mining zone of the Xiahaizi Coal Mine in the city's Qilin district was flooded while 26 miners were working. Only four miners managed to escape.
Rescuers, including officials from the provincial Mine Safety Department, transported pumps to the mine in the hope that the underground water could be drained and the workers rescued.
As of press time, 500 rescuers - including police officers, firefighters, electricity technicians and medical staff - were assisting the trapped miners, the Qujing publicity department said.
Yunnan Governor Li Jiheng requested the rescue operation make the trapped miners the top priority.
"A reasonable operation needs to be conducted to avoid additional accidents, and the miners' families must be well-cared for," Li said in a statement.
Yunnan Party chief Qin Guangrong went to the site on Monday afternoon to oversee the rescue operations.
Qujing, second to the provincial capital of Kunming in terms of GDP in Yunnan, has a large reserve of coal, and has had work safety issues in coal mines. Last year, the city had at least three coal mine accidents, killing several miners and injuring dozens.
Xiahaizi Coal Mine, covering 466,400 square meters, is approved for operation at 1,800 to 1,960 meters beneath the surface. The owner, Zhang Keqiang, has all licenses registered to dig out 60,000 metric tons annually, the Qujing publicity department said.
The city government received the news as late as four hours after the accident, when most officials were on vacation. In addition, the distance between the coal mine, in a mountain village in Dongshan township, and the city delayed rescue efforts.
Eight rescue teams were organized to provide help such as medical treatment and mine safety machinery. Five pumps had been running to drain 100 cubic meters of water per hour from the mine, and the flood was under control.
The condition of the 22 trapped miners was unknown as of press time.