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Trapped Chinese miners ate coal, drank urine to stay alive

BEIJING - The Meng brothers felt pretty good about their chances of making it out of the collapsed coal mine, until the sound of digging from outside stopped.

With no food or water, they were forced to eat coal and drink their own urine from discarded bottles. When they were too exhausted to try to dig themselves out, they slept huddled together in the cold and dark.

Meng Xianchen and Meng Xianyou finally clawed their way to the surface after nearly six days underground - a rare tale of survival in China's coal mines, the world's deadliest, where an average of 13 workers are killed every day.

The two even managed to crack jokes about their wives remarrying once they were dead after they emerged Friday from the illegal mine - which had no oxygen, ventilation or emergency exits - in Beijing's Fangshan district.

'At the beginning, our cell phone still had power so there was a little bit of light. Two days later, the battery ran out so we could only feel with our fingers and listen,' the brothers told the state-run Beijing News in a report published Tuesday.

Details of the veteran miners' ordeal came as rescuers in northeastern China's Shandong province tried to reach 181 miners trapped in two flooded coal shafts. Officials said Tuesday they had not given up hope even though the workers' chances of survival were dim after 11 days.

If those workers are found dead, it would be among the worst accidents of its kind in 58 years of communist rule, second only to an explosion that killed 214 miners in 2005. The government has pledged to improve safety, but owners flout safety rules and illegal operations abound to fuel the country's growing energy needs.

Doctors have said the Mengs had kidney damage from lack of water but no other major injuries after being trapped for more than 130 hours. Beijing News ran a photo of the men dressed in hospital gowns, looking gaunt but standing and clasping each other's hand while surrounded by relatives.