At least 11 die in Colombia coal mine explosion

Ongoing search operations for missing miners a day after an explosion at the El Cerezo illegal coal mine killed at least eight people.
Ongoing search operations for missing miners a day after an explosion at the El Cerezo illegal coal mine killed at least eight people.PHOTO: AFP

BOGOTA (Reuters, AFP) - At least 11 miners at an underground coal mine in Colombia have died and two remain missing after an explosion caused by methane gas, the government said on Saturday.

The explosion took place on Friday in the Cucunuba municipality in Cundinamarca province, some 90km north of the capital Bogota. The area where illegal underground coal mining is widespread and accidents are not uncommon.

"The partial total is 11 dead, one injured and two trapped," the government said in a statement. "The last three bodies have been located and will be taken to the mouth of the mine to be handed over to the relevant authorities."

President Juan Manuel Santos, who is wrapping up an official visit to France, expressed his "solidarity with the victims" in a Twitter post.

Legal coal mining in the mountainous Andean country, the world's fifth-largest exporter of coal, is dominated by Cerrejon, Drummond Co Inc and Glencore PLC.

Colombia's national mining agency said the blast appeared to have been linked to a build-up of methane, but the exact cause was unknown.

In more than three decades of working underground, miner Edgar Liz, 53, told AFP he had never witnessed such an incident. His son Andres Antonio Liz, 35, is one of the missing.

"It's hard for a father, to receive news like this, and not to know if he is alive or dead," he said.

More than 35 rescue workers and seven engineers are working to reach the people still missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Management Unit (UNGRD) government agency.

"We heard an explosion that shook the houses, the tiles," said Maria Cristina Salazar, who sells food to the mineworkers. "It seemed that windows were going to fall," said the 47-year-old.

"My god, it shocked us all."

In the first five months of this year 28 mining emergencies were reported in

Colombia, according to the national mining agency, leaving 23 dead and 33 wounded. Some 60 percent of those accidents occurred in coal mines.