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Gas Blast Traps 65 Mexican Miners

February 20, 2006|Sam Enriquez | Times Staff Writer

MONTERREY, Mexico — At least 65 Mexican miners were trapped underground Sunday after an early morning gas explosion in a coal mine outside San Juan de Sabinas, about 70 miles southwest of the Texas border town of Eagle Pass.

Mexican soldiers and civilian rescue teams worked into the night trying to clear air shafts and communicate with the workers, but by late Sunday failed to make contact with them.

Safety officials reported that at least seven workers near the opening of the mine fled the 2:30 a.m. explosion, suffering first- and second-degree burns and broken bones. They were expected to recover, said Dr. Joel Lopez Perez, deputy medical director for the regional clinic in nearby Nueva Rosita.

The other workers were trapped more than 1,600 feet underground, and about a mile into a horizontal shaft, according to the National Mining and Metal Workers Union. Officials from the mine's owner, mining conglomerate Grupo Mexico, said the workers were trapped about 500 feet below ground.

Sergio Robles, director of Coahuila state's emergency services, told Associated Press that the trapped miners carried enough oxygen to last six hours.

Asked about their chances for survival, Robles said, "It would be difficult because of the presence of gas. But we are holding out hope of finding someone alive."

Juan Rebolledo, vice president of international affairs for Grupo Mexico, told Associated Press late Sunday that rescue officials had advanced as far as 300 yards into the mine after working nearly 20 hours. He added that oxygen tanks were located throughout the mine, but it was impossible to know whether the trapped miners had access to them.

Coahuila Gov. Humberto Moreira Valdes, who was at the site overseeing the rescue operation, told Televisa network that the mine's ventilation system was still working.

Families of the missing miners gathered near the entrance to mine No. 8, on the outskirts of the municipality of San Juan de Sabinas, which has a population of about 52,000.

Guadalupe Rosales Martinez said her brother, Fermin, was rescued near the mouth of the mine after the blast knocked him out.

"I believe they [the miners] had already reported or had told about a gas leak," she said by telephone from the clinic.

She said her brother earned about $48 a week as a member of the mine's third shift, which works from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. "It's very risky at the mine given its conditions, but there's no other place to work."

The national union called for an investigation of the explosion.

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Carlos Martinez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report, and Times wire services were used in compiling it.

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