An explosion at a Columbian coal mine has killed 21 workers.
Columbian Red Cross director Johel Enrique Rodriguez said a methane gas build-up was the likely cause of the fatal explosion which ripped through the underground mine during a shift change. A similar blast happened at the same mine four years ago.
He said five of the victims died at the entrance and two bodies had been removed with 14 left to recover. Rescuers have managed to locate the remaining bodies, which are covered in burns and scattered in a kilometre-long tunnel that extended horizontally underneath a verdant mountain.
Although Gabriel Tamayo, manager of the La Preciosa mine in Sardinata, would not speculate on the cause of the blast, Mr Rodriguez suggested it was a methane build up like the one which is believed to have killed 32 miners in 2007.
Such a blast “is like a kind of cannon shot and creates a flame within the mine and obviously has tragic consequences”, William Villamizar, governor of the Norte de Santander province, where the mine is located, told RCN radio.
Officials said the explosion happened during a shift change.
“I refuse to work here any longer,” miner Luis Chacon told RCN television at the scene. He called La Preciosa “a killer mine”.
The mine met legal safety requirements, said Edgar Fabian Morales, national safety co-ordinator for the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining.
But the Ministry of Mining and Energy said it would be shut down, at least temporarily, and Mining Minister Carlos Rodado went to La Preciosa to meet with its managers and victims’ families.