BREAKING NEWS: Bogota, Colombia: 20 Miners Reported Dead In Coal Mine Explosion: UPDATED

26 Jan

LATEST NEWS UPDATE:

An explosion ripped through a coal mine in northeastern Colombia, leaving up to 21 miners feared dead.

Miners’ relatives wait for news after “La Preciosa” coal mine exploded Enlarge photo

Marco Aurelio Salas, a miner who survived the explosion of “La Preciosa” coal …More Enlarge photo

Corpses of three miners rescued from the shafts after “La Preciosa” coal mine …More Enlarge photo

A miner takes a rest rest after retrieving the corpses of three colleagues from the …More Enlarge photo

Fourteen bodies have been recovered, senior Sardinata municipal official Alvaro Silva told AFP in updating the official toll from an earlier count of 11 dead.

The Colombian Institute of Geology and Mines, which sent rescue teams to the scene, held out little hope that the remaining seven miners were still alive.

“Because of the scope of the disaster, it is impossible that they survived,” said a spokesman for INGEOMINAS, which supervises Colombia’s mines.

Search teams earlier removed six bodies wrapped in white plastic bags from the La Preciosa mine.

Officials had said the bodies of four other miners had been recovered and a fifth man died of his injuries after being taken to a local hospital. At least six miners were hospitalized with injuries.

The blast may have been caused by an accumulation of methane gas, said Sardinata Mayor Yamil Rangel.

The mine is located about an hour outside Sardinata in Norte de Santander province, which borders Venezuela.

Mines Minister Carlos Rodado said the site, the scene of two previous mine disasters since 2007, would be closed “until an investigation determines whether it was respecting all the rules.”

It was not immediately clear how many miners were trapped because the explosion ripped through the mine during a 6:30 am (1130 GMT) shift change, said Silva.

Provincial Governor William Villamizar told RCN radio that a methane blast “exploded like a cannon shot, creating a flame inside the mine.”

Civil defense, firefighters and even military personnel were at the scene helping in rescue efforts. “But we understand that it is very difficult to survive an explosion of that nature,” Villamizar said.

He said the mine is under the “rigorous control” of national safety inspectors with INGEOMINAS.

At the scene was 63-year-old miner Fabio Veloso, who spoke with disdain of the industry’s safety record. He escaped the explosion by luck, having emerged on a shift break moments earlier.

Two brothers and a cousin were with him when he entered the mine in the morning.

“I’ve been through many experiences where people I know have died,” he said, still unaware of whether his relatives had escaped the blast or died in the accident.

Six miners were killed and two others injured in a similar accident at the same mine in October.

Silva said some 30 people were killed in another accident at the mine in 2007, even though the site, which produces coal for the local market, met safety standards at the time.

Nearly 100 coal miners were killed in work-related accidents across Colombia last year, according to government figures.

Geologist and mining industry expert Julio Fierro Morales said the Colombian government lacks resources to properly monitor mine safety.

“It is possible to diminish the frequency and probability of these accidents in Colombia with gas detectors and measures to prevent mine shaft collapses,” Fierro Morales said.

According to the analyst, mine owners were clearly not meeting safety standards, and the government did not have the resources to enforce the rules: 50 inspectors oversee 10,000 mines, 4,000 of which are currently being operated.

Last year, Colombia became the world’s fifth largest coal exporter after Indonesia, Australia, Russia and South Africa. It produced 75 million tonnes of coal in 2010, according to government figures.

Mario Sepulveda, one of the 33 men rescued from deep inside a northern Chilean mine in October 2010, told Caracol TV he was praying for the trapped Colombian miners to return home safe and sound.

The Chilean miners became global media stars following the dramatic rescue, which brought a cascade of invitations for media appearances and endorsements.

——————–

LATEST NEWS UPDATE:

By Jack Kimball Jack Kimball:

BOGOTA (Reuters) – An explosion at a small underground coal mine in northeast Colombia killed 20 workers on Wednesday, officials said, in the latest accident to hit Latin America‘s mining industry.

Colombia is the world’s No. 5 coal exporter, with an industry dominated by major players with open-pit mines, but smaller mines in the central part of the Andean nation are usually dug underground where methane gas buildups can cause accidents.

The mining regulator Ingeominas said the latest blast, in Norte de Santander province, was probably caused by methane gas and preliminary figures showed 20 fatalities.

“They’ve just told me there are 20 dead and six wounded,” Marisa Fernandez of Ingeominas told Reuters by telephone.

Local officials and Colombia’s Red Cross said five bodies had been recovered so far along with six injured.

“I hope (God) favors me with another type of job to support my family, not this kind of mining in a murderous mine,” an unnamed miner told a local television station.

Other miners, one on the verge of tears, said they feared all their colleagues were dead. Local media reported there had been other deadly blasts at the same mine in the past.

Rescue workers continued searching for survivors.

Yamile Rangel, mayor of Sardinata municipality, said 16 people were still trapped in the mine but Red Cross officials said there was probably little chance of them being alive.

The explosion was the latest in a series of mine accidents in South America, including a collapse in Chile in August that buried 33 workers until they were rescued to international jubilation after two months underground.

In June, a blast killed 70 miners in Colombia and, in November, nine people died at two small coal mines in the central Colombian province of Cundinamarca.

Despite the recent run of accidents, conditions for workers in Latin America’s mines have improved radically in recent decades from the nightmarish conditions of past centuries after Spanish conquistadors began a hunt for gold.

The modern-day industry has helped fuel an economic boom in some nations, including Colombia, where mining is one of the main generators of foreign exchange.

(Additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Luis Jaime Acosta; editing by Anthony Boadle)

 ————–

Five miners were killed and 16 were trapped after an explosion in a coal mine in northeastern Colombia on Wednesday, local officials told AFP.

A map locating Sardinata, where at least five coal miners have died in an underground …More Enlarge photo

Another five people were injured and hospitalized, according to the mayor of Sardinata, Yamile Rangel, who had originally said 30 miners were trapped.

Rangel said four had been confirmed dead at the scene, and a fifth died en route to a hospital.

“The official toll up to now is five dead, six wounded, and in the mine 16 workers trapped inside,” Rangel told AFP.

The explosion may have been caused by an accumulation of methane gas, Rangel said.

The “La Preciosa” mine is located about one hour outside of town in the Norte de Santander province, which borders Venezuela.

At first it was not clear how many miners were trapped because the explosion happened during a 6:30 am (1130 GMT) shift change, said Alvaro Silva, a senior Sardinata municipal official.

Provincial Governor William Villamizar told RCN radio that a methane blast “exploded like a cannon shot, creating a flame inside the mine.”

Civil defense, firefighters and even military personnel were at the scene helping in rescue efforts, Villamizar said. “But we understand that it is very difficult to survive an explosion of that nature,” he said.

Villamizar said that the mine is under the “rigorous control” of national safety inspectors with the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMINAS).

Six miners were killed and two others injured in a similar accident in the same mine in October 2010.

Silva said that some 30 people were killed in another accident at the mine in 2007, even though the mine, which produces coal for the local market, was meeting safety standards.

Nearly 100 coal miners were killed in work-related accidents across Colombia in 2010, according to government figures.

Geologist and mining industry expert Julio Fierro Morales believes that the Colombian government lacks resources to properly monitor mine safety.

“It is possible to diminish the frequency and probability of these accidents in Colombia with gas detectors and measures to prevent mine shaft collapses,” Fierro Morales told AFP.

Fierro said that mine owners were clearly not meeting safety standards, and that the government did not have the resources to enforce the rules: 50 inspectors oversee 10,000 mines, 4,000 of which are currently being operated,” Fierro Morales said.

In 2010 Colombia became the world’s fifth largest coal exporter after Indonesia, Australia, Russia and South Africa. Last year produced 75 million tons of coal, according to government figures.

Mario Sepulveda, one of the 33 men rescued from deep inside a northern Chilean in October 2010, said in an interview from Santiago broadcast on Caracol TV that he is praying for the trapped Colombian miners to return home safe and sound.

The Chilean miners became global media stars following the dramatic rescue, which brought a cascade of invitations for media appearances and endorsements.

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