52 feared dead in Pakistan coal mine explosion

AP News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:52 AM
52 feared dead in Pakistan coal mine explosion

Rescuers used shovels and bare hands Monday to dig out miners buried after a gas explosion deep in a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan, lining up wooden caskets to await the bodies from an accident that left 52 feared dead.

More than 200 people stood outside the mine waiting to help or hear news from the search, but since the accident Sunday only bodies _ 27 of them _ have been recovered.

"We have yet to dig out and search the remaining two wings, but there is zero percent chance we can get anybody alive," said government mine inspector Iftikhar Ahmed.

Ahmed said the mine, owned by the state-run Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, was declared dangerous two weeks ago due to the presence of methane gas, but the warning was ignored by the contractor working it.

Methane gas is a major cause of coal mine explosions around the world. It can cause also cause asphyxiation.

Ghulam Mohammad said he feared for the lives of his friends.

"None of my five roommates have been found dead or alive yet," said the 30-year-old, who finished his shift just hours before the explosion.

Seven of the victims recovered so far were from a single family from the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan.

The search for the bodies was slowed by the presence of the gas and the fragile state of the mine, which prevented the use of heavy machinery, he said.

Ten of the dead were charred from the explosion and ensuing fire, while the others appeared to have been killed by falling debris or suffocation, said Ahmed. The bodies were at a depth of about 2,000 feet (600 meters), but the mine continues down to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters).

Ghulam Rasool, a 25-year-old miner who spent all morning searching for victims, said the work was exhausting and hampered by gas. "The mine's wooden support has collapsed at many points, leaving huge chunks of debris blocking the way," he said.

The mine is located in Sorange in Baluchistan province, 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the provincial capital, Quetta.

Mining _ for gems, marble, granite, chromite and coal _ is one of the only industries in much of Baluchistan and northwest Pakistan. But it has attracted very little foreign investment in recent years due to the precarious security situation. Accidents are commonplace.