Zhang Baoshun, the communist party chief in Shanxi, was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying at least 95 of the miners were known to be alive.

"I expect there will be more to be found in the flooded mine," he said.

Unexpected rescue

Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from outside the mine, said that dozens of rescued mine workers had been brought out and placed into ambulances waiting to take them to nearby hospitals.

"It has been an amazing hour-and-a-half. It started off with a number of orange jumpsuited workers running to the mine and they were followed by army soldiers," he said.

"In the minutes that followed we saw two stretchers come out, but after that we lost count - there was just a constant stream of stretchers coming out.

"Nothing like this was really expected."

China Central Television showed survivors being brought out of the mine strapped to stretchers and wrapped in green blankets. Towels covered their eyes and blackened faces to protect them from the light.

"How fantastic to be on ground again," Xinhua quoted one 27-year-old survivor as saying.

The rescue on Monday sparked cheers from hundreds of rescue workers, army personnel and medical staff.

"I have not slept for several days," Wei Fusheng, one of the rescuers, told state television as he wept with joy. "Our efforts have not been in vain."

Stable condition

The first nine miners were saved from another part of the mine late on Sunday.

Liu said those nine men were in a stable condition and the state-run Xinhua news agency said they were conscious and could identify themselves but their bodies had suffered.

Applause greeted rescuers and survivors emerging from the coal mine [Reuters]

Chinese media reported that some of the miners survived by attaching themselves to a mine wall with their belts to escape water rushing in from an adjacent shaft and then climbing into a mining cart that floated past after three days.

"This is probably one of the most amazing rescues in the history of mining anywhere," David Feickert, a coal mine safety adviser to the Chinese government, said.

Early investigations by China's work safety administration found that the mine's managers ignored water leaks from the abandoned mine before the accident.

State media said that the shaft flooded with the equivalent of more than 55 Olympic swimming pools of water.

China's coal mines are the deadliest in the world, despite government efforts to reduce fatalities. Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in China last year, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record, according to the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.

Most accidents are blamed on failure to follow safety rules or lack of required ventilation, fire controls and equipment.