Colombian President Alvaro Uribe confirms that emergency services have recovered the bodies of sixteen people killed in an explosion in the San Fernando coal mine in Antioquia. A further 72 people remain trapped.
During a press conference Uribe expressed his “pain” over the tragic accident and said “my soul is transported to Amaga.” The head of state asked the Antioquia secretary of mining to confirm if the San Fernando mine had passed legal inspections and abided by health and safety regulations.
The mayor of Amaga stated that the operation “is a legally constructed mine, but unfortunately mining is a high risk job.”
The director of Colombia’s Institute of Geology and Mining (Ingeominas), Mario Ballesteros, said that the explosion was caused by a build up of methane gas.
Ingeominas rescue worker Fernando Rodriguez said that emergency services have descended 600 meters into the 1,500 meter deep mine and are working on ventilating a tunnel to release the toxic gases coming from the mine.
The director of Colombia’s National Disaster and Emergency center, Luz Amanda Pulido, said the survival chances of the miners who remain trapped are minimal. However some survivors have been evacuated and are receiving treatment for burns.
The explosion occurred during a shift change, which likely increased the number of miners hurt in the accident, Pulido said.
Antioquia governor Luis Alfredo Ramos said the rescue operation may take up to three days and the death toll is expected to rise.
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.