Divers join search for 14 people in flooded tunnel in China

BEIJING (AP) – Divers have been sent to search for 14 workers missing since water flooded a tunnel under construction in southern China three days ago, authorities said on Sunday.

Zhang Yisheng, vice mayor of Zhuhai City, told a press conference that the water level in the tunnel had dropped by 11.3 meters (37 feet), the channel said online. CCTV public television station. Underwater robots, unmanned ships and sonar detectors would also be deployed, Zhang said.

Search teams move slowly through the tunnel as the water is pumped out. By Sunday morning, they had reached about 600 meters (650 yards) into the tunnel, just over half the 1.1 kilometer (1,200 yards) distance to where the workers were trapped. This is the length of the 1.8 kilometer highway tunnel that has been dug so far.

Their progress was slowed by carbon monoxide vapors from the machines used in the tunnel as part of the operation, although the level of the potentially lethal gas was lowered by improving ventilation.

The flooding occurred around 3:30 a.m. Thursday. An abnormal noise was heard and pieces of material began to fall from one side of the two-tube tunnel. An evacuation was ordered. Water rushed in and drained through a connection into the other tube in the tunnel, trapping 14 workers on that side.

The tunnel is under a reservoir, but the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

In March, two workers died in another part of the tunnel when a protective wall collapsed and they were hit by falling rocks, according to a notice from the Zhuhai Emergency Management Department.

Zhuhai is a coastal city in Guangdong Province and near Macau at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta. It was one of China’s first special economic zones when the ruling Communist Party started opening up the country’s economy about 40 years ago.

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