Authorities said on Thursday that Wednesday’s accident at El Tunel mine in the northwestern town of Riosucio was likely triggered by an explosion or power outage that disabled pumps used to extract water and supply oxygen to work crews as deep as 27 metres below ground.
“That’s because the water from the river is filtering into the mine from underneath. The rescuers say it is very unlikely to find anyone alive.”
Yeison Gutierrez, 34, said he was able to save several colleagues because he was one of the few miners who knew how to swim. But one co-worker slipped through his hands and didn’t make it above ground.
“I swam to the surface fighting against the water and the air pressure, that’s how we were saved,” Gutierrez told the AP news agency from the mine where he was assisting rescuers.
Family members huddled near the mine through the night as crews used pumps to remove water that had raced into three vertical shafts from the adjacent Cauca river.
Authorities said it could take at least three days to clear the mine.
“Every hour, every minute and every second that goes by the chances of finding survivors diminishes,” said Jaime Gallego, a civil defence worker.
Natalia Gutierrez, the head of the National Mining Agency, said the mine that collapsed Wednesday was in the process of being legalised.
But she told Caracol television that preliminary accounts from the site raised questions about whether the mine was complying with safety protocols.
The national ombudsman’s office on Thursday called on authorities to investigate the mine’s owners for negligence and reinforce controls at the estimated 3,000 other semi-illegal mining projects seeking government authorisation.
Gutierrez, the miner, said workers earn a percentage of the gold they extract, with wages ranging between $400 and $800 per month.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies