AGUJITA: Mexican authorities announced on Monday (Aug 15) a plan to seal leaks into a coal mine where 10 workers have been trapped for more than a week, after renewed flooding dealt a major setback to rescue efforts.
A sudden jump in water levels in the El Pinabete mine in the northern state of Coahuila deepened the despair of relatives, who are increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the operation.
The water in the shaft that rescuers hope to enter was around 38 metres deep on Monday, compared with 1.3 metres early on Sunday, civil defense national coordinator Laura Velazquez said.
The current level is even higher than in the initial aftermath of the Aug 3 accident, despite non-stop efforts to pump out water, according to figures given by the government.
The new strategy is intended to prevent more water from entering El Pinabete from the much bigger, abandoned Conchas Norte mine nearby, Velazquez said.
The plan is to drill 20 holes 60 metres deep into the Conchas Norte mine and inject cement into them to seal the leaks, Velazquez said.
Authorities believe the workers accidentally pierced a hole in a wall between the two mines, causing El Pinabete to flood.
“We’re not going to stop working to rescue the miners,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters.
Five miners managed to escape following the initial accident, but there have been no signs of life from the others.
Several hundred rescuers, including soldiers and military scuba divers, are taking part in the rescue efforts.
The focus so far has been on pumping water out of El Pinabete and removing wood and other debris from the vertical shafts so rescuers can enter the main tunnels.
On Friday authorities had said they were finally in a position to begin searching the mine, but those hopes soon faded.
Over the weekend, relatives of the missing workers voiced growing desperation and distrust in the handling of the rescue operation.
They also called for the mine owners to be held responsible.
“This is a crime that cannot go unpunished,” Magdalena Montelongo told reporters, adding that the miners had to work in “very bad conditions”.
Accidents are common in Coahuila, Mexico’s main coal-producing region.
The worst was an explosion that claimed 65 lives at the Pasta de Conchos mine in 2006.