The water level in a flooded mine in Meghalaya receded a few inches on Friday, holding out a sliver of hope for the survival of the more than dozen men who have been trapped inside the illegal coal pit since December 13 without any food and water, police said.
As frantic rescue efforts continued for the ninth day in the mine in East Jaintia Hills district, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said it is a major challenge and time is running out.
The water in the 370-feet-deep rat hole mine initially increased after the levels in the nearby Lytein river went up. Water from the river gushed into the pit on December 13, trapping the miners.
At present only two high power pumps are being used to flush out the water from the flooded mine.
"We need more pumps. That is the crux of the matter as time is running out to rescue the miners alive," the chief minister told PTI at his office here.
About 200 high power pumps are needed to flush out the water from the flooded mine, he said.
"The local people are saying this and that is the scale of work we are looking at. It is a major challenge as time is running out," he added, expressing his concern about the survival of the trapped men who many fear could be dead.
According to top police officer S Nongtynger, work on pumping out water is on with the hope that the water level will recede.
Rescue efforts have been futile since the water level in the flooded mine in East Jaintia Hills district has not receded since December 13.
Over 100 personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) as well as the state police are camping on top of the mine.
The lives of the miners are at a very high risk if the rescue operation continues without better results, warned a doctor from a leading hospital.
"They have been without food and water we were informed. Time is running out for them if that is the case. Every minute is precious and authorities have to sort out the problem at the earliest possible time," he said.
Mining expert and award winning rescuer Jaswant Singh Gill on Thursday visited mine and suggested that the state government seek help from Coal India.
Mr Gill, who shot to fame after he successfully rescued 64 miners from a flooded quarry in West Bengal in 1989, reached Lumthari village in the district and expressed concern after seeing the water level at the mine and on receiving inputs about rat hole mining practised in the state, a police officer said.
"As it is established that water that got in the mine was from the nearby river, we have to find out the location and plug it to prevent further water flow into the mine," Mr Gill told reporters.
"I have also advised the government to request Coal India to bring four to five high power submersible pumps which can be returned after use," he said.
The district authorities are in the process of sending Mr Gill's advice to the state government, a senior district told PTI on Friday.
The chief minister also said he is yet to get an official report from the deputy commissioner on the recommendations made by Gill, the former mining engineer and mine expert.
A National Green Tribunal (NGT) committee has asked the state government to pay compensation to the next of kin of all who have been killed in mine accidents in the state.
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