Divers participate in a search for 14 people in a flooded tunnel in China


Beijing (AP) — Officials said Sunday that divers had been dispatched to search for 14 missing workers since the tunnel under construction in southern China was flooded with water.

Zhang Yoshio, deputy mayor of Zhuhai City, said at a news conference that the water level in the tunnel had dropped 11.3 meters (37 feet), according to an online report from the state broadcaster CCTV. Underwater robots, unmanned vessels and sonar detectors will also be deployed, Zhang said.

The search team is slowly moving into the tunnel as the water is pumped out. As of Sunday morning, they entered the tunnel about 600 meters (650 yards). This is just over half the distance of 1.1 kilometers (1,200 yards) to the place where the workers were trapped. This is the length of the 1.8-kilometer highway tunnel dug so far.

Improving ventilation reduced the levels of potentially deadly gases, but carbon monoxide gas from the machinery used in the tunnel as part of the operation slowed their progress.

The flood occurred around 3:30 am on Thursday. A strange noise was heard and pieces of material began to fall from one side of the two-tube tunnel. Evacuation was ordered. Water rushed through the connection and into the other tube of the tunnel, trapping 14 workers on its side.

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

Two workers were killed elsewhere in the tunnel in March when a protective wall collapsed and hit a falling stone, according to a notification from the Zhuhai Emergency Management Department.

Zhuhai is a coastal city in Guangdong Province, near Macau at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta. It was one of China’s early special economic zones when the ruling Communist Party began to open the country’s economy about 40 years ago.

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