Rescuers pulled a ninth body from a collapsed coal mine in northern Mexico on Friday as families gave up hope of finding five other trapped workers alive after an explosion earlier this week.
Weary miners took turns around the clock digging away rubble in the shallow mine shaft that collapsed on Tuesday after a methane gas explosion outside the town of Sabinas in the desert state of Coahuila bordering Texas.
“I’ll bring up my son’s body in pieces if I have to,” miner Adolfo Gonzalez said as he rested after an exhausting spell underground reinforcing and ventilating a tunnel to try to reach the remaining bodies.
“I just want my son’s body,” Maria Antonia Rios said, reflecting a sense that no one survived.
The accident was a reminder of the dangers facing the thinly regulated industry. On Thursday, an opal mine collapsed in the western state of Jalisco, killing three people.
Mexico has been a leading minerals exporter for centuries and expects US$4 billion in investment in its mining industry this year. However, smaller mines often escape inspection and bypass many basic safety standards.
Mexican Labor Minister Javier Lozano, eager to avoid the kind of public anger sparked by the nation’s worst coal mining accident in 2006, when 65 miners died, pledged to recover the remaining bodies in Sabinas. However, he said rescuers were tiring and that progress was slow.
“We need more hands on deck, we need more people,” he said at the pit, which had been operating for 20 days and was only about 46m deep.
Rescuers are volunteers, but Lozano pledged to pay them from now on.
Lozano said via his Twitter page that the ninth body was recovered on Friday night.
Digging up near-surface coal in impoverished Coahuila is a way of life for thousands of miners who sell the coal to the state for power generation. They often work with little more than basic tools, and accidents are common.
The informal mines, known as pocitos, or little holes, are dug by men who can extract as much as 30 tonnes of coal a day. Using a bucket and a cable attached to a truck engine, they haul out rocks in the desert heat.
In the 2006 accident at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos coal mine, 65 workers died after an explosion.
Families of the victims are pressing for a renewed effort to recover the 63 bodies still trapped in the mine.
The Pasta de Conchos accident deepened mistrust between Grupo Mexico and unions, which are pushing for improved safety regulations at mines.