- 15 miners are trapped since December 13 at a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya
- The illegal mine in East Jaintia Hills is filled with 70 feet of water
- There has been no contact with workers but families are clinging to hopes
The search and rescue operations to look for 15 miners trapped since December 13 at a rat-hole mine in Meghalaya have stopped now. Two 25-horsepower (hp) pumps used to drain out the flooded illegal mine in the state's East Jaintia Hills were ineffective, officials said. Water from a nearby river kept flooding the mine, they said.
The district administration and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been waiting for powerful 100 hp pumps to arrive for the past three days, officials said. The state government is yet to send them, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
"We have not found anyone, dead or alive, so we are waiting for support from the state government to carry on the rescue operation," SK Sastri, Commandant of the NDRF's 1st battalion, told NDTV.
There has been no contact with the workers but their families are clinging to hopes that they are in an air pocket.
The mine is filled with 70 feet of water, making it inaccessible to rescue workers. "For the past two weeks, water has not receded much. Our divers can operate up to 40 feet, so we need to pump out the water and need support from the state government," said Mr Sastri, who called the rescue operation the most challenging the NDRF has seen.
Sources said water is still seeping into the mine from two sources -- another abandoned mine in the adjacent area and a river nearby.
A miner who survived the flooding told reporters five men escaped as water burst into the pit.
"I was about five feet away from the ground that morning and on my way up, when I suddenly felt a lot of air and then saw water," the 21-year-old said.
Mining was banned in mineral-rich Meghalaya by the National Green Tribunal in 2014 after local communities said it was polluting water bodies. But the practice continues with locals illegally extracting coal using dangerous "rat-hole" mines.
This involves digging into the side of hills and then burrowing horizontal tunnels to reach a coal seam.
With inputs from AFP