© Reuters. Rescuers at the site where miners were trapped underground after an explosion in a gold mine under construction, in Qixia

Written by Emily Chow

QIXIA, China (Reuters) – Workers trapped in a gold mine in China since January 10 may have to wait another 15 days before being rescued due to the planned escape route being closed, officials said on Thursday.

A total of 22 miners were trapped underground after an explosion at the Huoshan mine in Kixia, a major gold production area under the Yantai administration in Shandong Province on the northeast coast.

One of them has been confirmed dead, while 11 of them are known to be alive. The remaining ten are missing.

Rescuers are digging new lanes on Thursday to reach 10 men in the central section of the mine, more than 600 meters from the entrance, to whom food and medical supplies have been dispatched. Another survivor was found in a different section.

The columns include a 711 mm (28 in) pole rescuers hope to use to bring survivors to safety.

However, at least another 15 days may be required to clear the obstacles, said Jung Haitao, deputy head of the Yantai Propaganda Department, at a press conference at the rescue operation headquarters.

Officials said that the “severe blockage” at a depth of 350 meters was much worse than expected, adding that it was about 100 meters thick and weighed about 70 tons.

Dense smog, which smells like chemicals, hangs over the muddy road leading to the mine site and a row of ambulances is on standby in a parking lot, reducing visibility to a few hundred meters.

Police blocked the road to the mine, cutting off muddy apple orchards and warehouses, to ensure rescue efforts were not hampered. Health workers in white protective clothing have taken temperatures alongside dirt and tents as part of the COVID-19 precautions.

About 600 people are taking part in the rescue operation, with up to 25 ambulances waiting at the scene, as well as neurosurgeons, traumatologists and psychologists.

A Reuters team saw fire trucks and cars coming and passing through a checkpoint on an approach road.

China’s mines are among the world’s deadliest. There were 573 mine-related deaths in 2020, according to the National Mine Safety Administration.

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