MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Colombia: 73 workers die in Coal Mine Blast

Published by MAC on 2010-06-26
Source: Reuters, AP, EFE

Deadly coal mining has grown deadlier over the past twelve months, as global extraction and trade in the black stuff reaches unprecedented heights.

Already this year, US workers have suffered the worst mining disaster in a quarter of a century - at a Massey mine (see our latest posting at

The latest Chinese statistics suggest there's been an increase in the number of people dying in their underground coal operations.

And now 73 workers have been killed in a methane gas explosion in Colombia's Antioquia province - more fatalities than officially recorded over the previous five years.



73 Killed in Coal Mine Blast, Colombian Authorities Say


25 June 2010

BOGOTA – Teams have recovered 64 bodies from the coal mine where dozens of workers were trapped last week by an explosion, a source with Colombia’s Geology and Mining Institute told Efe on Thursday.

Authorities expect to remove the bodies of the other nine victims by Thursday night, the source said. Most of the miners trapped by the June 16 explosion at the San Fernando mine in the northwestern town of Amaga were working at a depth of 2,600 meters (8,524 feet).

The blast, apparently due to an accumulation of gas, occurred around midnight during a shift change. Ninety of the 163 miners inside at the time of the accident walked out under their own power the following morning.

A commission has been at the mine since last Thursday investigating the explosion and could issue a preliminary report as early as next week, the mining institute official told Efe.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who met with the families of the trapped miners last weekend, ordered the San Fernando mine closed for two weeks to facilitate the investigation.

A November 2008 flood in a different shaft at San Fernando left five workers dead, while 86 people perished in a 1977 explosion at a another coal mine in Amaga.

Most of the municipality’s roughly 140 coal mines operate without official authorization and are effectively unregulated.

Mine explosions have claimed 71 lives in Colombia over the last five years, according to emergency-management officials.

18 miners die in Colombian coal blast, 70 more feared dead

Fredy Amariles


18 June 2010

AMAGA, Colombia - More than 70 Colombian miners were feared dead on Thursday after they were trapped by an explosion that ripped through a coal mine in what could become one of the Andean country's worst mining disasters.

At least 18 bodies were pulled from the wreckage after the midnight gas explosion in northwestern Antioquia province. The death toll was expected to rise steadily as rescuers struggled against gas and debris to reach into the mine shift.

The blast at the small underground San Fernando mine occurred far from the major operations run by companies such as Drummond and Glencore near the Caribbean coast of the world's No. 5 coal exporter, which has output of about 70 million tonnes a year and is enjoying a boom in investment.

In the town of Amaga near the destroyed mine, relatives sobbed and hugged each other and anxiously pressed rescue workers for news as bodies wrapped in white sheets were carried from the wreckage to waiting hearses.

"They have to give me some sign of hope," Gladys Gallego said as she waited for a loved one outside the mine. "Until they take him out I am not going home."

Luz Amanda Pulido, a disaster official, said there was little chance any miners would be pulled out alive after the blast, which President Alvaro Uribe called a "huge disaster."

"We've recovered 18 bodies and the rescue is difficult because the mine is still leaking a lot of gas," rescue agency director Ivan Dario Viera told Reuters by telephone. "The operation could take four or five days minimum,"

A new accumulation of gas temporarily halted attempts to reach miners trapped 6,500 feet (2,000 metres) below the surface and rescue workers had only managed to work their way down 2,000 feet (600 meters) so far.

Five miners died in the same mine during a flood two years ago, local media reported. Last year, a methane gas explosion in another Antioquia province coal mine killed eight workers and, in 2007, 31 miners were killed in an explosion in Norte de Santander in one of the country's worst mining disasters.

The blast at the small mine, while one of the worst in Colombia's history, will not have a broad market impact because the mine is tiny and supplies the domestic market and some European traders, markets sources said.

San Fernando mine produces 240,000 tonnes a year of thermal coal, according to mines and energy officials.

Mining an Election Issue

Just as news of the explosion was breaking, workers at Glencore's La Jagua's coal mine in Cesar province went on strike over conditions after failing to reach an agreement with the company, a union said.

Colombia has enjoyed a boom in energy and mining investment under Uribe, who sent troops out to drive back leftist rebels who once controlled large parts of the country and targeted oil pipelines as part of Latin America's oldest insurgency.

Uribe steps down in August and his former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, is favored to succeed him in a run-off vote on Sunday. The country's commodities boom is an election issue with candidates debating how to handle an influx of mining and oil dollars.

The San Fernando disaster also could highlight mining safety regulations in a country where the industry ranges from large deposits operated by multinationals to hundreds of small, makeshift pits that produce coal for local markets.

Coal mining is a dangerous business even in more developed countries. Explosions and collapses are common, especially in China. In April this year, an explosion killed 29 miners in West Virginia in the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in more than two decades.

Most of Colombia's thermal coal exports are shipped from the ports on the Caribbean, making Europe, the United States and Latin America the most logical markets.

The bulk of thermal coal exports go to Europe, where Colombian coal has been consumed for many years by power generators who prize this coal for its high energy and low sulphur content.

Key benchmark delivered Europe coal prices were barely changed from Wednesday's levels despite a mine blast and the strike at the Glencore unit.

August delivery DES ARA physical coal cargoes were quoted at $94.00-$96.50 a tonne on Thursday afternoon, up around 25 cents from the previous day.

(Additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota and Jackie Cowhig in London; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Bill Trott)

Little hope for trapped Colombian miners

Libardo Cardona


19 June 2010

AMAGA, Colombia - Authorities held out little hope Friday for the dozens of workers trapped underground after an explosion ripped through a coal mine, killing at least 18 during a shift change.

At least 50 workers remained unaccounted for a day and a half after the explosion and rescue efforts were moving slowly, impeded by the presence of dangerous gases, officials said.

Rescue workers also lacked oxygen tanks.

Authorities believe a methane gas buildup caused Wednesday night's explosion.

"It's unlikely that there are any survivors given the accumulation of methane gas and carbon monoxide," national disaster director Luz Amanda Pulido told The Associated Press.

More than 3,000 residents of Amaga, about half the town, attended a funeral service at a local church Friday for nine of the 18 whose bodies were pulled from the San Fernando mine.

Coroners from the state prosecutor's office said most of the victims died from burns in the explosion, which happened in a 1.2-mile-long (2-kilometer-long) access tunnel that drops to a depth of 500 feet (150 meters).

Mining Minister Hernan Martinez said the mine, located just south of the Antioquia state capital of Medellin, would not reopen until an investigation into the cause of the blast is complete.

He said the mine lacked a methane ventilation pipe and gas-detection devices - basic safety features in coal mines.

Jorge Buitrago, general manager for the mine, owned by Carbones San Fernando, told the AP that it complied with safety requirements for monitoring and controlling gases. He declined to comment further.

Relatives of the missing miners were trying to absorb the shock of the explosion at San Fernando. They said the workers earned from $300 to $600 a month and conditions were generally good, although temperatures tended to rise as high as 104 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 45 degrees Celsius).

"I'm still stunned," said Luz Enid Arias, 30, standing in a light rain outside a funeral parlor where the body of her husband, 37-year-old Hector Adolfo Pizarro, lay.

She recalled what Pizarro often said about his job: "You know you'll walk into a mine, but you don't know if you'll come out."

The biggest loss of life at a mine in modern Colombia was in 1977, when 85 people died in a gas explosion at a separate mine in Amaga, said Tomas Charris, a researcher at Colombia's Uniandina University.

San Fernando is one of 3,000 underground mines in Colombia that produce 6 million metric tons of coal a year, said Jorge Martin Molina, an engineer in the mining department at Colombia's National University.

Colombia's total annual coal production is 75 million metric tons with several huge open pit mines in the country's northeast producing the vast majority.

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