U.S. experts joining search for Mexican miners - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

U.S. experts joining search for Mexican miners

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Posted: Monday, February 20, 2006 5:24 am | Updated: 2:36 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

SAN JUAN DE SABINAS, Mexico - Relatives of 65 trapped Mexican coal miners steeled themselves for a third day of anguished waiting Tuesday as U.S. mining experts were joining the hunt for workers trapped by a gas explosion hundreds of feet underground.

Officials said late Monday that prospects were slim but there was still a chance of finding survivors from Sunday's pre-dawn explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in northern Mexico. Crews worked through the night, tunneling feverishly through dirt and rock

Miners' family members, who had been camped outside the mine for nearly two days, called for rescue workers to give them more information.

"Tell us the truth!" a man shouted through a megaphone.

Jesus de Leon, 50, whose 35-year old son is trapped underground, said the wait was unbearable.

"If the rescue workers have advanced just one more meter we need to know about it," De Leon said. "They don't tell us anything."

Some relatives prayed with priests and pastors who joined them at the entrance to the mine, located near the town of San Juan de Sabinas, 85 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas.

Women wept openly and swayed with their arms in the air and men wiped tears from their eyes.

"We are waiting for a miracle from God," said Norma Vitela, whose trapped husband, Jose Angel Guzman, had previously told her of problems with gas in the mine.

Federal Labor Secretary Francisco Salazar arrived at the mine late Monday and assured relatives that the government was using all available resources to rescue survivors.

U.S. mining experts will arrive on Tuesday to assist in the relief effort, said Juan Rebolledo, vice president of international affairs for mine owner Grupo Mexico.

The trapped men had carried only six hours of oxygen, but officials said they believed a ventilation system that uses huge fans to pump in fresh air and suck out dangerous gases was still working. Even so, they could not be certain the precious oxygen was arriving to where the miners were trapped.

Rebolledo, said oxygen tanks were scattered throughout the mine, but it was impossible to know if the trapped miners had access to any of them.

More than 40 hours of digging had pushed rescue teams 500 yards into the mine, about 55 yards from where two conveyor-belt operators were believed to be trapped, mine administrator Ruben Escudero said.

But others were thought to be trapped as far as one to three miles from the mine's entrance.

Escudero said rescuers were wearing oxygen masks and avoided using electric or gas-powered machinery because of the presence of explosive gases. Medical doctors were on the site to examine rescue workers as they emerged from their eight-hour shifts in the tunnels.

At least a dozen workers who were near the entrance at the time of the explosion were able to escape. They were treated for broken bones and burns.

Sergio Robles, director of emergency services for Coahuila state, said the mine was better reinforced, giving rescuers hope that they might be able to advance more quickly. He said if there were survivors, they could very well be trying to dig their way out.

Family members prepared for a second night outside the pit, huddling near bonfires and wrapped in blankets to protect against the bitter cold. Some pitched tents, while others slept on small cots or upright in plastic chairs.

"The only thing we want is information and all they tell us is that they don't know," said a sobbing Yadira Gallegos, whose 28-year-old brother-in-law, Jesus Martinez, was just finishing his first week at the mine.

The explosion occurred around 2:30 a.m. Sunday as the miners were in the middle of their overnight shift.

Consuelo Aguilar, a spokeswoman for the National Miners' Union, said there had been concern over safety conditions in Grupo Mexico mines. She called for an investigation into the cause of the accident and the responsibility of company officials.

Rebolledo said safety conditions met Mexican government requirements as well as international standards, "but accidents can always happen."

Pedro Camarillo, a federal labor official unrelated to Olivia Camarillo, told reporters during a news conference that officials found nothing unusual during a routine evaluation on Feb. 7.

As well as mining coal, Grupo Mexico is the world's third-largest copper producer, with operations in Mexico, Peru, and the United States.

Coahuila's worst modern mining disaster occurred in 1969, when more than 153 miners were killed in a pit at the village of Barroteran. In 2001, another 12 people died in an accident at a mine near Barroteran.

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