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Ten miners trapped underground in Mexico; advocates say there was ‘clear evidence’ that mine could collapse

Mine accident in Sabinas
LUIS CORTES/REUTERS
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An aerial view shows the site of a coal mine that collapsed leaving miners trapped, in Sabinas, Coahuila state, Mexico, August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Luis Cortes

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Efforts continued this weekend to rescue ten miners trapped underground in the El Pinabete coal mine, 70 miles southwest of Eagle Pass in Sabinas, Coahuila in Mexico.

On Wednesday, a mine collapse gave way to a neighboring underground cavity filled with water. Five miners were able to escape the 60 meter deep shaft at the time of the incident, but as of Saturday afternoon rescue teams continued to search for a way underground to locate the others.

Four of the escaped miners, all between the ages of 33 and 52, were currently hospitalized but in stable condition. Rescue efforts had not made contact with the miners still trapped underground.

Miguel Ángel Riquelme Solís, the governor of Coahuila, said in a press conference that attempts to control the underground flooding had not yet been successful.

“The reality of the situation at this moment is that we haven’t been able to reduce water levels enough for any rescue teams to enter the shaft,” Riquelme Solís said.

Several Mexican news outlets reported that at least one individual was detained by authorities in the investigation to clearly identify responsible parties. However, several community members reportedly testified that the person actually in charge fled the scene at the time of the incident.

El Pinabete coal mine in Sabinas, Coahuila
Google Earth
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Google Earth
El Pinabete coal mine in Sabinas, Coahuila

Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Minería (REMA) is a network of advocacy groups based in Mexico that represents the families of those affected by mining injuries and deaths across the country.

“This is one more of a multitude of preventable disasters due to negligence and government corruption,” said REMA in a statement. “These are not accidents, as all three levels (local, state and federal) of government have called them.”

Advocacy groups say that actual numbers are impossible to discern from official records, but REMA has so far cataloged 3,103 mine deaths across Mexico in 310 similar incidents since 1883.

Mine accident in Sabinas
LUIS CORTES/REUTERS
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X06946
Relatives of trapped miners wait for news about their loved ones outside the facilities of a coal mine, where a mine shaft collapsed leaving miners trapped, in Sabinas, Coahuila state, Mexico, August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Luis Cortes

The most tragic of such incidents in the past two decades occurred just eight miles west from Sabinas at the Pasta De Conchos coal mine when 65 people died underground in a methane explosion in 2006.

Cristina Auerbach is the director of Familia Pasta De Conchos, an advocacy group that has pressured the Mexican government to extract the bodies of the workers who perished at Pasta De Conchos for the past 16 years.

She said she’s waited for the government to implement more effective rescue measures since before that incident.

History of coal mining deaths and injuries in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila
Pablo De La Rosa
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Texas Public Radio
History of coal mining deaths and injuries in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila

“2002 was the first time I heard that dogs and divers were going to be sent to rescue miners trapped in Pasta De Conchos,” Auerbach said in an interview with Animal Politico on Saturday. “Twenty years later, the government says that the dogs and divers are ready, but now it is mud–you cannot dive.”

REMA claims that mine supervisors and government entities allowed mining at El Pinabete with knowledge that the underground shafts can flood at any time.

“There was clear evidence that mine could be flooded because the excavation presented water infiltrations,” REMA said. “Those workers were maneuvering too close to a body of water.”

El Pinabete is mined by several companies and at times by independent contractors. The Mexican government first identified Minera El Pinabete S.A. de C.V. as the business in charge of the operation involved in the incident on Wednesday.

However, confusion arose when an identical entry in the same public registry named a different company, Minera Río Sabinas S.A. de C.V., as the current operator in that mining sector.

“There are still no protocols for mining emergencies,” said Auerbach. “And the accidents keep happening because there are no safety measures in place.”

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Pablo De La Rosa is a Northern Tamaulipas-Rio Grande Valley native where he works as a writer and multimedia producer of stories from the Texas-Mexico border region.