KOLKATA - Hundreds of miners were trapped Tuesday in eastern India after a massive power failure across the north of the country left them unable to operate their lifts.
"We are trying to rescue the coal miners. All efforts are on to resume power supplies. You need power supplies to run the lifts in the underground mines," West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters in the state capital Kolkata.
More than 200 miners were stuck in 80 coal mines in Burdwan district, some 180 kilometres (110 miles) northwest of Kolkata, where mines are operated by the government-owned Eastern Coalfields Ltd.
As power flickered back on in some areas several hours after the crisis struck, company officials in Kolkata said they had begun bringing miners to the surface.
"The operation to pull the miners out has started. All of them cannot be pulled out together. It is a very slow process," Eastern Coalfields general manager Niladri Roy told AFP.
"Every worker is safe inside the coal mines. They will be home for dinner is all we can promise right now," Roy said.
The workers were told to move to a location where there was good ventilation and rescue teams could supply them food and water.
In neighbouring Jharkhand state, 65 miners were similarly trapped, the Press Trust of India news agency quoted a senior mining company official as saying.
The massive power outage struck around 1:00 pm (0730 GMT) in the middle of the working day when regional power grids collapsed, blacking out more than half the country in a crisis affecting over 600 million people.
The city of Kolkata was without power as was the surrounding state of West Bengal as the eastern grid, which supplies five states, failed under the stress of over-demand.
In total, 20 out of 29 states were affected on Tuesday, according to an AFP calculation.