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The water levels in the mine increased early Sunday morning, evidently due to accumulated water in the nearby Las Conchas mine. The water levels in the mine increased early Sunday morning, evidently due to accumulated water in the nearby Las Conchas mine. Twitter @GobDeCoahuila

It’s Day 12 for trapped miners as rescue efforts hampered by rise in water levels

Federal rescuers don't know the mines and 'should let us go down,' miners' families say

An abrupt increase in water levels in a flooded Coahuila coal mine is hindering efforts to rescue 10 miners who have been trapped since August 3.

The National Civil Protection Coordination (CNPC) said in a statement that water levels rose Sunday in wells 2, 3 and 4 at the El Pinabete mine in the municipality of Sabinas. The Coahuila government said water levels were between 12 and 15 meters on Sunday morning, well above the 1.5-meter level required for a safe rescue attempt.

The high water mark had dropped to below one meter in one of the wells, but on Monday levels had surged to above 40 meters in one well and to over 35 meters in the other two.

Authorities have been using pumps to extract water from the mine, which flooded when excavation work caused a tunnel wall to collapse. The sudden increase in the water levels on Sunday was apparently due to water leaking – or gushing – into the El Pinabete mine from the adjacent Las Conchas mine, which was abandoned 30 years ago.

A diagram presented at the president's Monday press conference shows the location of the Las Conchas mine, the apparent source of the flooding that trapped the miners in El Pinabete mine.
A diagram presented at the president’s Monday press conference shows the location of the Las Conchas mine, the apparent source of the flooding that trapped the miners in El Pinabete mine. Presidencia de la República

The CNPC said that specialists from the Mexican Geological Service and a private company were designing a strategy to prevent water levels from rising further and to “generate conditions to rescue the miners,” who have now been trapped underground for 12 days.

Civil Protection chief Laura Velázquez said Monday that engineers had recommended the continuation of pumping to remove water from the mine, while concrete will be injected to seal off the inundated wells.

President López Obrador told his regular news conference he had issued instructions for the entire rescue plan to be reinforced.

“They’re pumping about 290 liters per second [but] we’re going to increase the pumping and the mining engineers are developing a proposal to build a kind of barrier between one mine and the other to stop the water. We’re going to intensify the [rescue] work,” he said.

Meanwhile, the families of the trapped miners – who have set up camp at the mine site – are becoming increasingly desperate. They have criticized the authorities for not making progress in the mission to rescue their loved ones, and have called for the resignation of Velázquez.

“We can’t take it anymore,” a woman whose brother is trapped told reporters on Saturday.

Gabriel Rodríguez, who also has a brother in the mine, told an impromptu press conference that family members have been waiting more than 200 hours without knowing anything about their loved ones.

“They tell us to wait, that there’s not long to go, that the water [levels] have come down, but they only tell us lies,” said Rodríguez, who is a miner himself.

Family members of the trapped miners said rescuers should have been pumping water out of the Las Conchas mine from the start and wondered why the pumps were not working around the clock.

“The army divers are afraid because they don’t know mines,” he charged. “They see a piece of wood and say they can’t advance. That’s why we tell [the authorities] that we’ll sign a paper, that we’ll be responsible for what happens to us inside [the mine] and that they should let us go down.”

Rodríguez also called for additional rescuers, “from here or abroad,” to be deployed to the mine.

Sergio Alejandro Martínez Valdez, another brother of a trapped miner, said that authorities should be pumping water from both the El Pinebete and the Las Conchas mines. “But they don’t listen to us at all,” he complained before also calling for international help.

Foreign mining experts could “come and give us their opinion,” Martínez said. “We’re asking for their help to get our family members out of there.”

Velázquez, the Civil Protection chief, defended the rescue efforts, saying that the Civil Protection department is one of the most experienced in the world because Mexico is so vulnerable to natural disasters. She pledged Sunday that the authorities wouldn’t abandon the trapped miners or their despondent – and angry – relatives.

“We share the anguish they suffer, and they should know that we’re not skimping on resources to achieve the goal [of rescuing the miners],” Velázquez said.

With reports from 24 Horas, Reforma and Animal Político

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