Search on for 10 trapped miners after Colombia blast kills 11
Firefighters and fellow miners battled Wednesday to save ten workers trapped in a coal mine in central Colombia after an explosion killed at least 11.
The blast happened when accumulated gases in the mine were ignited by a spark from a worker's tool late Tuesday, governor Nicolas Garcia of the Cundinamarca department told Blu Radio.
President Gustavo Petro called it "an unfortunate tragedy," in a Twitter message.
"We are making every effort with the Cundinamarca regional government to rescue the trapped people alive," the president said, offering "a hug of solidarity to the victims and their families."
The ANM national mining agency said on Twitter Wednesday morning that two workers had been "rescued alive" from the mine at Sutatausa.
"We regret what happened and we stand in solidarity with the families of those affected," the ANM added.
Garcia said ten were still missing, and more than 100 rescuers were involved in the search.
Survivor Joselito Rodriguez, 33, told AFP by telephone that he felt a "tremor" while working and then "I felt I was suffocating, and could not see anything."
"Thank God we got out safely, but others are dead," he said shortly after leaving the hospital where he received treatment for his lungs.
- 'Less oxygen' every minute -
Workers from other mines also rushed to the scene with their yellow hard hats and lanterns to join the rescue effort.
Outside the mine, family members waited increasingly desperately for news of their loved ones.
The explosion happened at a legal coal mine linked underground to five others.
The miners were trapped some 900 meters (2,950 feet) underground, and access was difficult, said Garcia.
"Every minute that passes means less oxygen," he added.
Oil and coal are the main exports of Colombia, where mining accidents are frequent, especially at illegal digs in Cundinamarca and other departments in the country's center and northeast.
Colombia registered more than 1,600 mining accidents from 2011 to May 2022, for an average annual toll of 103 deaths, according to official data.
At least 130,000 people make a legal living from mining in Colombia.
But unions consistently denounce poor working conditions, with a lack of protective gear and overly long working hours.
In August, nine miners were rescued from a collapsed illegal coal mine in the same department.
And in June, 15 people died at a mine in the municipality of Zulia, near the border with Venezuela, also due to an explosion of accumulated gases.
The country is a major coal producer for the global market.
According to the ministry of mines and energy, in 2020 Colombia had "53 percent of proven coal reserves in Latin America and 0.6 percent of reserves" in the world.
Petro, who became president in August, has called coal a "poison" and vowed to transfer mining jobs to the agriculture, clean energy and tourism sectors.
Illegal mining, along with drug trafficking, is also a major source of income for Colombia's armed groups that have waged a nearly six-decade conflict among each other and against the security forces.