SAN JUAN DE SABINAS, Mexico – Mexican crews tunneled feverishly Monday through dirt and rock to reach 65 coal miners trapped by a gas explosion 600 feet underground. Relatives grew increasingly desperate after nightfall with no word of their loved ones.
Some of the miners’ family members, who had been camped outside the pit for more than 36 hours, called through a megaphone for more information.
“Tell us the truth!” one man shouted.
Officials said that while prospects were dim, there was still a chance of finding survivors from Sunday morning’s explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine near the town of San Juan de Sabinas, 85 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas.
The trapped men had carried only six hours of oxygen, but officials said they believed a ventilation system that uses huge fans to pump in fresh air and suck out dangerous gases was still working. Even so, they could not be certain the precious oxygen was arriving to where the miners were trapped.
Jesus de Leon, 50, whose 35-year-old son is trapped, said the wait is unbearable.
“If the rescue workers have advanced just one more meter we need to know about it,” de Leon said. “They don’t tell us anything.”
Some relatives prayed with priests and pastors who joined them at the pit entrance.
“We are waiting for a miracle from God,” said Norma Vitela, whose trapped husband, Jose Angel Guzman, had previously told her of problems with gas in the mine. She said the father of four, who earns $75 a week, could not afford to quit.
Juan Rebolledo, vice president of international affairs for mine owner Grupo Mexico, said oxygen tanks were scattered throughout the site, but it was impossible to know if the trapped miners had access to any of them.
More than 36 hours of digging had pushed rescue teams 450 yards into the mine, about 50 yards from where two conveyor-belt operators were believed to be trapped, said mine administrator Ruben Escudero.
But others were thought to be trapped as far as one to three miles from the mine’s entrance.
Escudero said rescuers were wearing oxygen masks and avoided using electric or gas-powered machinery because of the presence of explosive gases. Doctors were on the site to examine rescue workers as they emerged from their eight-hour shifts in the tunnels.
At least a dozen workers who were near the entrance at the time of the explosion were able to escape.
Asked whether he believed there were more survivors, Robles said: “It would be difficult because of the presence of gas. But we are holding out hope of finding someone alive.”