Relatives of trapped Mexican miners pray for miracle

Relatives of 10 workers trapped in a flooded coal mine in northern Mexico clung to hope they were still alive Friday, more than 48 hours after a cave-in sparked a major rescue operation.

Family members spent a second night waiting anxiously for news after the latest disaster to strike Mexico’s main coal-producing region in Coahuila state.

“I feel desperate, not knowing what’s happening and when I’ll see him again,” said Jesus Mireles Romo, whose father was among the missing.

“But I have faith that it will turn out well, that they will all get out,” he told AFP, his eyes red from crying.

The 24-year-old rushed to the mine in Agujita in the municipality of Sabinas with his two brothers on Wednesday to try to help the victims before the authorities took over, and has not left since.

“It’s painful to see your children who don’t lose hope of seeing their father again,” said his mother Claudia Romo, 45.

Five miners managed to escape in the initial aftermath of the cave-in Wednesday, but since then no survivors have been found.

More than 300 soldiers and other personnel joined the rescue effort unfolding about 1,130 kilometers (700 miles) north of Mexico City, the government said.

– ‘Working tirelessly’ –

Soldiers and emergency workers labored through the night under floodlights pumping out water from the mine to try to make it safe enough to enter.

Authorities said the three mine shafts descended 60 meters (200 feet) and the floodwater inside was 30 meters deep — slightly lower than the day before.

“It’s essential to reduce the water level… to allow the safe entry of specialized search and rescue personnel,” civil defense national coordinator Laura Velazquez said.

“We’re working tirelessly to rescue the 10 trapped miners,” she said.

Family members cried and comforted each other while hopes of finding survivors dimmed with each passing hour.

“What we want is for them to retrieve the bodies,” Angelica Montelongo said with a sad and tired look, before summoning up new hope that her brother Jaime would be rescued.

“But hey, God willing, right? You have to have faith that they’re alive,” she said.

Miners and their relatives painted a picture of a precarious profession fraught with risks due to lax safety standards.

“When everything’s fine, you don’t think about the danger, but when things happen you think about quitting,” said Luis Armando Ontiveros.

However, looking for a new job does not seem like a viable option for the 48-year-old, whose father taught him to dig for coal at an early age.

Besides, the father-of-three said he needed the monthly salary equivalent to about $500 — roughly twice the minimum wage — to pay for his children’s education so they do not have to follow in his footsteps.

– History of accidents –

Crudely constructed mines like the one that collapsed lack concrete reinforcements to protect workers from a cave-in, engineering expert Guillermo Iglesias said.

The miners “dig a shaft two meters in circumference and keep digging until they reach a small layer of coal,” he told local radio.

The only thing supporting the surrounding earth is usually a large plastic tube through which the workers enter, he added.

Coahuila’s state government said the miners had been carrying out excavation work when they hit an adjoining area full of water, causing the shaft to collapse and flood.

Coahuila has seen a series of fatal mining accidents over the years.

Last year, seven miners died when they were trapped in the region.

The worst accident was an explosion that claimed 65 lives at the Pasta de Conchos mine in 2006.

Only two bodies were retrieved after that tragedy and the families have repeatedly urged the Mexican authorities to recover them.

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