A rescue operation launched to rescue over 14 people trapped inside a flooded “rat-hole” mine in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills was disrupted due to heavy rain and strong winds today. Five days have passed since the operation’s launch, but nobody has been rescued yet.
Divers have only succeeded in recovering three helmets until now, sources said.
The illegal coal mine at Ksan in the district’s Saipung area had collapsed on December 12, following which it was flooded by water from the adjacent Lytein river. Although the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) are jointly trying to rescue the miners, it is feared that they may already be dead.
The exact number of people in the mine is yet to be confirmed. Although state authorities confirmed the presence of another person, taking the official figure to 14, a well-placed source told NDTV that at least 18 are believed to be trapped underground. The Coal India Limited has deployed a team of experts to assist the main rescue team of 100 personnel, and the state government has urgently sought additional help from the home ministry.
Sources said water from multiple sources is still entering the mine, further complicating the rescue operation. While the water had reached a height of 70 feet by Monday, NDRF divers armed with sonar devices and high-calibre lights could only descend to a depth of 30 feet.
“Water gushing into the mine is proving to be a big hindrance. In the absence of a map, we don’t even know how many channels are there inside. The space beyond the shaft of the mine is also very narrow, but we are trying our best to expedite the operation,” NDRF commandant (1st battalion) SK Shastri told NDTV, terming “pumping out water” as their main concern.
Three heavy-duty pumps are being used to pump water out of the flooded mine, and the government is planning to requisition more for the purpose. Sources said that while NDRF divers have been able to reach the shaft, several arterial channels inside the mine are yet to be explored.