By Vanessa Buschschlüter
Rescue workers in Colombia are working against the clock to save 14 coal miners who have been trapped deep under ground since Monday.
The men were cut off after an explosion thought to have been caused by a build-up of gases ripped through a tunnel.
The blast’s expansive wave hit one miner on the surface who has since died from the burns he sustained.
Mining accidents are not uncommon in Colombia, with 148 deaths recorded in 2021.
Relatives of the miners have been holding a vigil by the banks of a little stream not far from the mine entrance.
“We’re desperate, but we’re clinging to the hope that they’re alive,” one wife told RCN radio.
Officials and rescue workers have given different estimates as to the depth at which the men are trapped. The regional mining secretary, Jhon Olivares, said they were 200m (650ft) below ground while some local media reported that they could be as far down as 300m.
Mr Olivares said that the mine was operating legally. It had been closed in 2021 due to a high concentration of gases but had been given the green light to reopen on 19 May, he said.
The rescue work has also been hampered by a build-up of gas as well heavy rains.
“Conditions are very complicated. The impact caused by the explosion was strong and the subsequent fire has generated contaminating gases,” Mr Olivares explained.
The explosion was so powerful that flames shot 15m from the tunnel’s entrance, where they engulfed Fabio Cáceres, the 37-year-old miner who has since died.
Engineers have been working to ventilate the shafts and officials said the rescue workers had managed to advance 150m so far.
Colombia’s civil defence force said it was working around the clock to free the miners.