Ten miners remained trapped Thursday afternoon following an accident Wednesday at a coal mine in the northern state of Coahuila.
The tense situation began Wednesday afternoon when workers reportedly were excavating one shaft and ran into an adjoining shaft that was full of water, which caused a flood and trapped the miners.
According to an update early Thursday, five miners were able to get out shortly after the accident and were taken for medical care; three remain hospitalized.
Later, during the morning press conference of President López Obrador, an official reported that a group of 30 military personnel with specialized equipment left for the scene late Wednesday night, as did divers from the National Guard. A coordination post has been set up onsite, added Agustín Radilla Suástegui, the deputy minister of national defense, and there was an early-morning meeting among agencies to coordinate rescue efforts.
The mine is located near the small town of Agujitas, which is about 110 kilometers from the Texas border in the municipality of Sabinas, Coahuila.
Radilla said the miners were trapped between two pits flooded with approximately 34 meters of water. The mine is made up of three 60-meter-deep shafts.
López Obrador said he had instructed the heads of the military (Sedena), CFE, Pemex and Conagua to streamline support. “What I wish with all my soul is that we rescue the miners,” he added.
According to an account from Sedena, the accident occurred while the miners worked with hand tools in a 50-meter-deep pit. When they tapped into the adjoining area full of water, a tunnel collapsed, causing the flood that trapped the men.
The newspaper El Sol de México reported that relatives of the miners said it had been known since Monday that working there was risky because a farm in the Agujita area had a pocito (well) with excess water. For that reason, “the workers were not allowed to enter [the mine] on Monday and Tuesday,” the newspaper wrote.
El Sol de México added that on “Wednesday it was decided that they should go down to work, since they are paid for each tonne of coal extracted, and a stoppage would” result in financial setbacks.
The goal of the rescuers is to get pumping equipment into place to drain the coal pit, sources reported, so search-and-rescue teams can enter. According to media reports, the rescue force in the mine area numbers 269 people, including nearly 100 soldiers and seven agencies of the federal government, as well as state and municipal organizations and four military canine pairs.
“It is complicated, but … the important thing is to place the pumps strategically to extract the greatest amount of water and have immediate access to the mines,” said national Civil Protection coordinator Laura Velázquez.
The mine began operations in January 2022 and hadn’t had any incidents before this week, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (STPS) reported, according to El Sol de México, which also reported that, like most mine workers in Mexico, the trapped miners are not unionized.
“For that and other fundamental reasons, we need a comprehensive reform of the Mining Law,” Morena Senator Napoleón Gómez Urrutia said.
Gómez’s father was a mining union leader for 40 years and he, too, has been involved in union leadership.
On Twitter, Gómez, the president and general secretary of the National Mining Union wrote that authorities do not comply with their obligation to inspect or supervise coal-mining operations, and “that is why these tragedies occur very often,” El Sol de México reported.
The accident recalls a previous disaster in February 2006 at the Pasta de Conchos mine, also in Coahuila, where 65 workers died. Only two bodies were recovered. Since then, there have been more than 100 deaths of miners in the area, the Excélsior newspaper reported.
The most recent accident was in June 2021, in the municipality of Múzquiz, Coahuila, when a flood caused the roof and walls of a mine to rupture, killing all seven miners who were trapped inside.