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Rescue Workers Search Mine For Seven More Bodies

January 27, 1988

LAS ESPERANZAS, Mexico (AP) _ Gas fumes and rising waters hindered the search for seven people missing and presumed dead in a mine shaft where an explosion and fire killed at least 30 miners.

Seventeen other workers were recovering from injuries sustained in the fiery explosion Monday. Some of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Survivors on Tuesday said the explosion was so strong a blast of searing air knocked them flat and sent them scrambling for their lives in the underground inferno. Most of the survivors fled the mine under their own power.

Felipe Perez Ortiz, a miner heading the rescue team, said there was little chance any more survivors could be found. He said the seven missing miners were presumed dead and that their bodies probably would be recovered today.

″It will take a while because of the difficulty of working there. There’s a lot of debris. ... These places don’t have any air and there’s a lot of gas,″ he told reporters.

Hugo Garcia de Anda, a spokesman for the government’s Sidermex Co., which owns the mine, said the seven missing miners are in another, deeper part of the mine from where the 30 bodies were found.

Garcia de Anda said that seeping water, accumulated from the firefighters’ efforts, and lack of air were making the recovery effort difficult.

About 200 family members, reporters and officials watched from a distance as the last two bodies, in plastic bags, were hoisted through the shaft to the surface Tuesday night, bringing the confirmed death toll to 30.

The 17 injured miners remained hospitalized in the nearby towns of Palau and Nueva Rosita, seven of them with severe burns.

″Mine 4 1/2 ,″ six miles northwest of Las Esperanzas in northern Coahuila state, is operated by Compania Hullera Mexicana, a subsidiary of Sidermex, the giant steel-making complex. Las Esperanzas is 130 miles west of Laredo, Texas.

The mine remained will not be reopened until authorities determine what caused an electric transformer to explode inside one shaft, Garcia de Anda said. He said the blast sparked accumulated coal dust and gas into a fireball.

″This really was an accident. It didn’t have anything to do with neglect or lack of prudence,″ he said.

However, he added that mine officials would set up an independent panel to ″investigate the explosion so this doesn’t happen again.″

De Anda said the mine employs 450 workers, with those underground working in three eight-hour daily shifts starting at 7 a.m.

Gerardo Acosta Garcia, an investigator with the federal district attorney’s office, said 138 men had gone in for the morning shift when the disaster struck 90 minutes later.

While the red-and-black flag of the miners’ union flew at half-staff in front of union headquarters, the first of the victims, a 17-year-old boy, was buried Tuesday afternoon. Several more bodies were taken home to nearby towns and quietly buried. Most of the funerals were to be held today.

The victims’ ages ranged from 17 to 38.

A survivor, 20-year-old Victor Hugo Delgado, said he had just finished eating breakfast when a torrent of hot air knocked him down. ″It felt like we were going to burn up,″ he said, speaking from his hospital bed in Nueva Rosita. He sustained severe burns on his face, chest and hands.

Another survivor, Ismael Soto, 37, said he was on the mine’s ninth level when the explosion occurred on the 10th level, about 490 feet deep. ″I just thank God I made it out,″ he said.

″It all happened so fast, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even hear the explosion. All I know is that it got very hot down there,″ said Soto, who has worked at the mine for eight years.

When the explosion occurred, ″hard hats, (miner) lamps and pails flew everywhere. It was horrible,″ Jose Bedoy Garcia, 31, told the newspaper La Voz from nearby Monclova.

″I heard people yelling for help but I couldn’t tell where they were coming from. All of a sudden, I felt someone take me by my arm and then I blacked out,″ he said.

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