Rescue workers have recovered the bodies of five more victims of the San Fernando coal mine disaster from 1,750 meters below ground, and are now within 800 meters of the remaining miners, El Tiempo reports on Sunday.
According to John Freddy Rendon, director of the rescue operation, 24 bodies have so far been recovered by his team, and another 47 are thought to still be trapped.
Rendon expects that, with the arrival of new ventilation equipment brought in for the operation, they will be able to reach the end of the mine and recover all the victims of the tragedy by late Sunday or Monday.
According to Rendon, all of the victims recovered so far died due to the massive explosion that destroyed the mine late Wednesday night, which is thought to have been caused by a build-up of methane gas.
While Colombia’s director of the National Disaster and Emergency center said the chances that the trapped miners are still alive are minimal, the director of the Institute for Geology and Mining (Ingeominas) expressed optimism, saying that they “are working thinking only about rescuing the people alive. At no time do we think that we will rescue corpses.”
“The only real way,” that the miners could have survived, however, as Rendon explained, is that the miners have been “enclosed between two cave-ins caused by the explosion, and that they have some source of oxygen, and that they were not exposed to the [poisonous] gases, nor killed in the explosion itself.”
It is most likely, El Tiempo reports, that the miners suffocated due to the toxic gases released by the explosion.
On Sunday, family members of the deceased and trapped miners met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. According to Uribe, the government has pledged to provide for the families and ensure their financial well being.
“We will make every effort to ensure that you do not feel unprotected,” Uribe told the family members of the deceased and trapped coal miners in the rural Antioquian town of Amaga.
According to Uribe, local and national authorities have agreed to guarantee the families the full support of the government, ensuring that they continue to receive salary payments and health care benefits.
On Friday, Colombia’s Mining Minister Hernan Martinez said that the Ingeominas would be conducting a full investigation into the suspected shortfalls in safety regulations at the San Fernando coal mine. He also said that he believes that the mine did not fulfill safety requirements.
Around 600 miners work in the San Fernando mine, which saw a similar incident a year and a half ago, in which five people were trapped, one of whom died.