Rescuers in southwest China's Sichuan Province were racing Thursday to save 21 miners trapped in a coal mine following a gas blast that has left 26 dead.
More than 300 rescuers have been dispatched to the Xiaojiawan Coal Mine in the city of Panzhihua to retrieve the trapped workers.
Rescuers were lowered into the mine to search for the trapped miners while paramedics waited aboveground.
Li Hua, a rescuer with Panzhihua Coal Mine Group, said he entered the pit three times early Thursday morning and successfully pulled two miners out of the mine alive.
However, rescue efforts at the mine were hampered by narrow underground spaces, cave-ins and high temperatures in the gas-filled pit, according to the rescue headquarters and rescuers.
Temperatures reached 80 to 90 degrees centigrade and carbon monoxide was dense in the zone where the miners were trapped. Only some paramedics wearing masks were able to enter the shaft, authorities said.
"The shaft of the mine has been severely destroyed, making our rescue work very hard," Li, the rescuer, said.
Rescuers had pulled six miners alive out of the mine as of 6 a.m. Thursday.
Yang Dongliang, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, arrived at the mine early Thursday morning to join provincial governor Jiang Jufeng in directing rescue operations.
Finding and rescuing those miners trapped underground has remained a pressing task, according to the rescue headquarters.
A total of 154 miners were working underground when the accident occurred at around 6 p.m. Wednesday, and 107 of them have escaped on their own or have been pulled out of the shaft, according to the rescue headquarters. Three miners died on their way to hospital.
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, four hospitals in Panzhihua had received 54 miners, including 10 who were seriously injured and seven in critical condition, sources with the provincial health department said.
Of the injured, 50 suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning and the other four miners suffered burn-related injuries, the sources said, adding that most of them are in stable condition.
Xu Changyong, 34, was one of the miners who survived the accident.
He regained consciousness after being taken to the Panzhihua Coal Mine Employee General Hospital.
"I heard the crackling sound of an explosion at that time but didn't feel the shockwave," Xu told Xinhua at the hospital. "What came out of the air compressor was not fresh air but ash, and soon my workmates and I got headaches."
Xu, a digging miner with strong sense of safety, quickly got the pipe off the air compressor to let fresh air in after he realized there must have been a gas blast and helped his four workmates escape. Xu scrambled out of the pit, but lost consciousness on the way to hospital.
The coal mine, some 750 km southwest of the provincial capital Chengdu, is owned by Zhengjin Industry and Trade Co., Ltd.
Three owners of the mine have been taken into police custody and the mine's accounts have been frozen.
An investigation into the accident is underway.
Meanwhile, provincial authorities have ordered a thorough probe and overhaul on coal mines and other potentially hazardous enterprises.