Rising waters and lack of sophisticated equipment hampering efforts to rescue 15 coal miners, trapped underground since December 13, in northeastern Meghalaya state, officials say.

The mine is an old, illegal so-called
The mine is an old, illegal so-called "rat-hole mine", common in Meghalaya but dangerous as the coal is pulled out from narrow, horizontal seams. (AFP)

Indian rescue workers were trying to reach 15 coal miners trapped underground for 13 days on Wednesday as families prayed for their safe return, but chances of survival looked slim after floodwaters rushed through the illegal "rat-hole" pit.

The 15 went to work at the mine in the northeastern state of Meghalaya on December 13 and have been underground ever since.

"Only God's grace and some miracle can help them to be alive," Kyrmen Shylla, Meghalaya’s disaster management minister, told Reuters by telephone from capital Shillong.

The rescue operations was suspended on Sunday following flash floods from a nearby river, officials said.

Lack of sophisticated equipment

A team of about 100 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) experts have been camping at the mine site but their operations have been hampered by lack of sophisticated equipment, SK Shastri, NDRF commandant leading the operations, said.

"The rescue operation is going on and we're trying our best. But the water inside the mine is still rising. I personally see the survival chances dwindling," Kyrmen Shylla, Meghalaya’s disaster management minister, said.

The mine is an old, illegal so-called "rat-hole mine", common in Meghalaya but dangerous as the coal is pulled out from narrow, horizontal seams.

'Please save the miners'

Workers, including children, descend hundreds of feet on bamboo ladders to dig out the coal, often leading to accidents at such mines.

On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi, the head of India's main opposition, appealed to the prime minister for help, saying on Twitter: "15 miners have been struggling for air in a flooded coal mine for two weeks. … PM please save the miners."

Source: Reuters