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Coal mine explosion in northeast Colombia kills 32

Published by MAC on 2007-02-04

Coal mine explosion in northeast Colombia kills 32

By MARKO ALVAREZ, Associated Press

4th February 2007

SARDINATA, Colombia -- Crews battling dangerously high levels of methane gas have recovered 19 bodies from a coal mine where an explosion killed 32 miners in northeast Colombia, an official said Sunday.

Initial efforts to remove the bodies trapped more than 1,300 feet underground by Saturday's explosion were hampered by toxic gases in the makeshift mine, said Fernando Rosales, director of civil defense in Norte de Santander state.

"Luckily, the conditions have improved greatly and the recovery operation is moving more fluidly," said Rosales, adding that 19 bodies had been recovered so far from the mine in the remote hamlet of San Roque, 255 miles northeast of Bogota.

Rosales said 31 miners died in the mine, while another managed to escape after the blast but died at a hospital in Cucuta, capital of Norte de Santander. Dangerous levels of trapped methane had made it impossible for work crews to remain below ground for extended periods.

President Alvaro Uribe was expected to travel to Norte de Santander later Sunday to offer condolences to family members gathered outside the mine, Minister of Social Protection Diego Palacios told Caracol Radio.

Rosales said the explosion was caused by "some spark and the gas that was inside." Norte de Santander is a violence-ridden state overrun by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups who often battle each other for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes across the border with Venezuela.

Many mines in this Andean nation are makeshift affairs with few or no safety procedures. In 2001, at least 37 gold miners were killed after a hillside gave way and swept over them at a strip mine 120 miles west of Bogota.

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