An explosion at the Hushan gold mine on January 10 in Qixia, a city in China’s eastern Shandong province, killed a miner and trapped 21 others underground. After a week without contact, rescue workers established communication with the miners on January 18, when they later sent a handwritten note via a shaft that workers had drilled from the surface. Pictures from Chinese social media show that both rescue workers and citizens were mobilized to help the miners in an urgent mission that has provoked an outbreak of support from the population.
“It’s another sleepless night, we’ll give it our all.”
A January 15 Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok) video posted by a worker shows the rescue effort at the Hushan mine at night. The caption of the video reads: “The rescue is still going on, thanks to the volunteers for the dumplings, it’s another sleepless night, we will give everything.”
Because the explosion damaged the workers’ communication systems, rescuers did not have a word from the miners who were stuck more than 600 meters from the surface until a week after the incident, when they heard knocking noises on a drill pipe they had inserted from the surface.
A video from January 17 shows that rescuers knock on a drill pipe and hear knocking sounds in return. “There is an answer!” someone shouts, and the audience cheers.
After rescuers sent food, medicine and writing materials down their shoulders, they received a water-colored, handwritten note from the miners. The scratched characters said that 12 people were still alive in the middle, four were injured and that the ten other miners were still unknown. The note said there was thick smoke and high levels of groundwater and asked for painkillers, medical tape and anti-inflammatory drugs.
22 miners in Qixia, Shandong have been trapped underground for eight days following an explosion on January 10
Handwritten note from 17/1 says that 12 are alive and 10 are unknown. “As long as you do not stop the rescue operation, we will keep hoping. Thank you” 🙏🙏
– Chenchen Zhang🤦🏻♀️ (@chenchenzh) January 18, 2021
The handwritten note was sent up on January 17 from one of the axes that the rescuers drilled to deliver supplies to and communicate with the miners. The note ends with: “as long as the rescue operation continues, we have hope. Thanks.”
This January 18, Douyin shows an interview with a rescue worker at Hushan’s gold mine. “We have been at this for seven hours and we are sending seven people to the mine at a time [to clear out the debris from the explosion]. All the workers here have worked directly for 24 hours, because this is our brothers in there, and even if we risk our lives, we must save them. ”
The rescuers were able to install a cordless telephone to converse with the captured miners, who conveyed that the injured’s physical condition has improved thanks to the supply and medical supplies from the team. However, a miner who suffered serious head injuries had fallen into a coma and died on January 20.
The miners also sent another note asking for a spare phone anyway. “If we can not contact you, we can not find the party anymore.” In response, the rescuers sent several waterproof backup phones.
Another handwritten note sent by the miners on January 19: “Please send another phone as a backup.” © Weibo
As part of the rescue operation, workers have drilled 10 boreholes near the mine, including one intended as a lifeline to lift the miners to the surface. A life detector was also sunk into one of the boreholes to try to make contact with the ten missing miners.
The blast, the cause of which is currently under investigation, was reported 30 hours after it occurred, a decision that prevented rescue efforts and led to the dismissal of the local Community Party’s secretary and mayor.
Citizens offer food support and encouraging online messages
Local villagers, volunteer groups and enthusiastic residents from other cities have been mobilized to feed the rescuers and the captured miners. Qixia Sky Blue Charity Group delivers hot meals to the venue every night – 400 meat pies and 200 bowls of congee, a Chinese rice porridge. Villagers from Qixia also brought salty crepes, steamed buns and apples that they grew themselves. Even residents of other cities explicitly traveled to Qixia to donate bags of special millet (for congee) and spicy pickles after reading news about the miners’ food needs.
Volunteers in Qixia Sky Blue Charity Group pour congee into bowls to deliver to rescue workers at the Hushan mine. © Weibo
This January 19 video posted on Weibo shows Qixia villagers preparing and delivering food to rescue workers.
Social media platforms such as Weibo (China’s Twitter response) and Douyin have also seen an exhaustion of support for the captured miners. Users published news videos about the rescue operation with their own messages of support, and many wrote that they hoped that the miners would be reunited with their families in time for the Chinese New Year on February 12, 2021.
The hashtag “Qixia gold mine” has been viewed 14.5 million times on Weibo and similar hashtags have been viewed 20 million times on Douyin.
Mining accidents are not uncommon in China and lead to hundreds of deaths each year, often due to gas buildup and poorly secured standards. As recently as December 2020, 23 miners died in a carbon monoxide leak at a coal mine in Chongqing municipality. In the case of the Hushan mine, state media such as China Central Television criticized the mining company’s delay in reporting the incident, calling it “unacceptable” in a “race to the death.”