Agujita, Mexico—Dozens of rescuers battled Thursday to free 10 workers trapped in a flooded coal mine in northern Mexico, where desperate relatives waited for news more than 24 hours after a cave-in.
As night fell again in Coahuila state, family members cried and comforted each other while hopes of finding survivors dimmed with each passing hour.
“What we want is for them to retrieve the bodies,” Angelica Montelongo said with a sad and tired look, before summoning up new hope that her brother Jaime would be rescued.
“But hey, God willing, right? You have to have faith that they’re alive,” she said.
Soldiers, emergency workers, and rescue dogs were deployed to the mine in Agujita in the municipality of Sabinas after the latest disaster to strike Mexico’s main coal-producing region.
“What I want with all my soul is that we rescue the miners,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters in Mexico City.
“We must not lose faith. We must not lose hope,” he added.
Five miners managed to escape alive after the cave-in Wednesday and were taken to hospital, civil defense national coordinator Laura Velazquez said, adding that two had been discharged.
“Time is crucial here,” she said.
Authorities said the mine’s three shafts descended 60 meters (200 feet) and the floodwater inside was 34 meters deep.
“It’s complicated,” Velazquez said.
But the authorities were making progress and pumping out water “to rescue the miners as soon as possible,” she added.
‘Not much hope’
Around 230 army and other government personnel were sent to the site, about 1,130 kilometers (700 miles) north of Mexico City, the defense ministry said.
Several pumps were being used to tackle the flooding, but Lopez Obrador urged the national water agency to send more equipment.
“Unfortunately, there’s not much hope,” Jose Luis Amaya, whose cousin was among those trapped, told Milenio TV.
Experts and relatives painted a picture of a precarious profession fraught with risks extracting coal from the mines with lax safety standards.
“There’s always job insecurity… and danger,” said Blasa Maribel Navarro, whose cousin Sergio Cruz has mined coal for several years to support his two daughters.
Navarro said she was still hopeful of seeing him alive “because we trust in God.”
Crudely constructed mines like the one that collapsed lack concrete reinforcements to protect workers from a cave-in, engineering expert Guillermo Iglesias said.
The miners “dig a shaft two meters in circumference and keep digging until they reach a small layer of coal,” he told local radio.
The only thing supporting the surrounding earth is usually a large plastic tube through which the workers enter, he added.
Coahuila’s state government said the miners had been carrying out excavation work when they hit an adjoining area full of water, causing the shaft to collapse and flood.
Coahuila has seen a series of fatal mining accidents over the years.
Last year, seven miners died when they were trapped in the region.
The worst accident was an explosion that claimed 65 lives at the Pasta de Conchos mine in 2006.
Only two bodies were rescued after that tragedy and the families have repeatedly urged the Mexican authorities to recover them.