Colombia mine explosion kills 3, traps 28 with toxic gases

Saturday, February 3rd 2007, 4:14 pm
By: News On 6

SARDINATA, Colombia (AP) _ An explosion tore through a coal mine in remote northeast Colombia on Saturday, killing at least three miners and trapping 28 more in tunnels filled with deadly gases, a rescue official said.

With family members looking on, rescue crews pulled out on stretchers the bodies of three miners found near the entrance to one of two tunnels where the miners were believed trapped.

Fernando Rosales, director of civil defense in Norte de Santander state, said emergency crews have not yet been able to enter the mine. He said hopes of finding any miners alive was ``discouraging'' because of the extensive damage and the trapped gases.

``There is a lot of gas inside and we're in the process of trying to get it out to see if rescue crews can go inside,'' Rosales told The Associated Press from outside the mine.

The morning explosion in the remote hamlet of San Roque, 255 miles northeast of Bogota, was caused by ``some spark and the gas that was inside'' the mine, Rosales said.

Norte de Santander, where the mine is located, is one of Colombia's most violent states, an area overrun by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups who often battle each other for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes across the border with Venezuela.

Many mines in this Andean nation are makeshift affairs with few or no safety procedures.

In January 2006, three self-employed coal miners _ a 60-year-old father and his two sons _ died at a mine in the same region after inhaling poisonous gases.

Other mine disasters in Colombia have been the result of landslides and erosion.

In 2001, at least 37 gold miners were killed after a hillside gave way and swept over them at a strip mine 120 miles west of Bogota.