Colombian coal mine explosion kills at least 11

Regional governor says 100 rescue workers have been deployed to try to free 10 miners trapped underground.

Firefighters rescue miners trapped after an explosion killed 11 in central Colombia
Firefighters work to rescue miners after an explosion at a coal mine in Sutatausa, Colombia on March 15, 2023 [Cundinamarca Fire Department/AFP]

At least 11 people have been killed in a coal mine explosion in central Colombia, the governor of the country’s Cundinamarca department has said, as rescue workers raced to save 10 other miners who were trapped underground.

The incident in the municipality of Sutatausa, 74km (46 miles) north of the capital Bogota, occurred due to an accumulation of gases that exploded after a worker’s tool caused a spark, Governor Nicolas Garcia told Blu Radio on Wednesday.

The explosion happened late on Tuesday at a series of legal mines that are linked.

“People are trapped between 700 and 900 metres [2,300 and 3,000 feet]” underground, Garcia told reporters. Two people have already been rescued and seven escaped unaided.

Firefighters and other rescue workers could be seen at the entrances to the mines in images from local media, with a handful of relatives awaiting information about their loved ones.

The governor said more than 100 rescue workers were working to free the trapped miners.

“Every minute that passes means less oxygen,” he said.

In a message posted on Twitter, Colombian President Gustavo Petro confirmed that 11 people had died in what he described as a “tragedy”.

“We are making every effort with the government of Cundinamarca to rescue the trapped people alive,” he wrote. “A hug of solidarity to the victims and their families.”

Survivor Joselito Rodriguez, 33, told the AFP news agency 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.

Colombia is home to numerous open and underground gold and coal mines. Incidents frequently occur, mostly at operations that are illegal or do not adopt sufficient security measures.

The most serious recent incident occurred in June 2010, when 73 people were killed in a mine explosion the northwest.

In August, nine miners were rescued from a collapsed illegal coal mine in Cundinamarca.

In 2021, the South American country recorded 148 deaths in mining incidents.

Source: News Agencies