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Colombia ends rescue operation at coal mine after 21 deaths

Rescue operation at a coal mine in central Colombia that collapsed earlier this week has ended, and officials said the accident had left 21 workers dead.

“Sadly, 21 people lost their lives in this tragic accident in Sutatausa,” a municipality in Cundinamarca department, the Colombian leader Gustavo Petro wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Cundinamarca Governor Nicolas Garcia also announced the search was over, writing on Twitter that “unfortunately, there is no longer anyone alive. We are heartbroken.”

The mine near the town of Sutatausa collapsed late on Tuesday following an explosion that blocked several of its entrances.

Rescue teams worked non-stop for more than 30 hours to find survivors and retrieve bodies.

Garcia said nine workers survived the accident and had been released from hospital, while the relatives of miners who were killed were receiving psychological support. 

Officials said all of the workers who were at the mine at the time of the accident had been accounted for.

Colombian Minister of Mines Irene Velez said on Thursday that the explosion was caused by methane inside the mine.

She said the complex would remain closed until officials investigate how the explosion occurred.

READ MORE: Colombia races against time to rescue trapped miners after blast kills 11

Prone to mining accidents

Oil and coal are the main exports of Colombia, where mining accidents are frequent, especially at illegal digs in Cundinamarca and other departments in the country’s centre and northeast.

According to official data, Colombia registered more than 1,260 mining accidents from 2011 to May 2022, for an average annual toll of 103 deaths.

At least 130,000 people make a legal living from mining in Colombia.

Mining is an essential source of work in Sutatausa and surrounding areas as salaries are generally higher than the minimum wage of just over the equivalent of $200 a month.

Last year 117 accidents were registered at mines throughout the country by the National Mining Agency, which says that 146 workers were killed in those incidents.

Unions consistently denounce poor working conditions, with a lack of protective gear and long working hours. 

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