Monday, November 29, 1999

Colombia coal blast kills 16 miners, 70 feared dead

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More than 70 Colombian miners were trapped and feared dead on Thursday in an overnight coal mine explosion that killed at least 16 miners in what could be one of the country's worst mining accidents.The gas explosion occurred just after midnight at the San Fernando mine in Amaga town in northwestern Antioquia province, far from the major coal operations run by large companies such as Drummond and Glencore near the Caribbean coast.Shocked relatives sobbed and hugged each other waiting for news and anxiously pressed rescue workers for details as hearses ferried bodies from the wreckage of the mine blast."This is a huge tragedy, initially we have reports of 72 people trapped and now we have 16 bodies recovered," President Alvaro Uribe said.Luz Amanda Pulido, a national disaster official, told local radio there was "practically no" chance of pulling out miners alive from the mine.A new accumulation of gas temporarily halted attempts to reach miners trapped deep below the ground, rescue workers on the ground said.Colombia, the world's No. 5 coal exporter, has enjoyed a boom in energy and mining investment under Uribe, who sent troops out to drive back left rebels who once targeted oil pipelines and infrastructure for attacks.Hundreds are killed or injured every year while prospecting for gold or coal in often makeshift and small mines in Colombia, which is increasingly a target for foreign gold companies attracted by better security under Uribe.A methane gas explosion in a coal mine killed eight workers last year also in Antioquia province and in 2007, 31 miners were killed in an explosion Norte de Santander in one of the worst disasters of its kind in a decade.Most Colombian coal is moved by rail to ports for export with a smaller amount trucked to export points. But the Andean country also has scores of smaller mines that produce coal for the domestic market.(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen)(For more news on Reuters India, click

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