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Coal mine explosion kills 12 people in Colombia, three remain missing

07 June 2022

An explosion at a coal mine in northeastern Colombia killed 12 people on May 30. One miner died in hospital shortly after the blast while 14 others became trapped underground. An extensive search and rescue operation was conducted in the days following the incident which led to the discovery of 12 bodies. As of June 7, three people remain missing.

Image: Colombian Civil Defense
Image: Colombian Civil Defense

The incident happened at the La Mestiza coal mine in the municipality of El Zulia on the outskirts of the city of Cúcuta on the Colombian border with Venezuela. According to Colombia’s National Mining Agency (ANM), the underground explosion involved methane and coal dust. The blast caused several landslides and initially left 14 miners missing and one seriously injured. The injured 37-year-old miner, Fabio Cáceres, had been at the surface entrance to the mine at the time of the blast and suffered burns to more than 85% of his body. He later died from his injuries after being transported to hospital.

Around 70 search and rescue personnel from ANM were called to the site to assist local police and the army in searching the mine and locating the missing miners. Officials said that the miners were likely trapped around 200m (650ft) below the surface.

Heavy rain, high humidity and temperature within the mine, as well as high concentrations of gas made rescue efforts difficult for rescuers. Engineers being brought in to help ventilate the mine and enabled rescuers to advance around 150m into the mine by June 1.

On June 2, ANM announced that rescuers had found the bodies of several miners, taking the death toll to nine. Search and rescue efforts continued through the week, with three more miners confirmed to have died after their bodies were discovered on June 4 and 5. Officials said that while the likelihood of finding the remaining miners alive was minimal, rescuers would not give up until they were found.

The ANM said that conditions were extremely difficult within the mine and had to use stretchers and rope to pull bodies to the surface through a 300m long tunnel at a 35-degree angle. Rescue operations were being conducted 24 hours a day, ANM said, with rescuers going through a health check prior to going underground. Five reports per day have been given to families of the missing miners to keep them up to date on operations.

La Mestiza coal mine was legally allowed to operate, although it had only been given the green light to reopen on May 19 after being closed in 2021 due to high concentrations of gas within the mine. Mining incidents are not uncommon in Colombia, with 148 miners dying in 2021. In February 2022, a coal mine blast killed 11 workers and injured four others in Colombia’s Boyacá province.

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