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Colombia wants mine safety reviews after blast - Reuters

* Death toll rises to 21 from Wednesday's blast

* Rescue workers have recovered 17 bodies so far

 

* Same mine had another deadly explosion in 2007


By Luis Jaime Acosta and Jack Kimball


BOGOTA, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called for a mine safety review on Thursday after an explosion killed 21 miners at an underground coal pit in the northeast of the world's No. 5 coal exporter.


The blast on Wednesday was the latest in a series of mine accidents in South America, including a collapse in Chile last year that buried 33 workers until they were rescued to global jubilation after two months underground. [FACTBOX ID:nN27193196]


At Colombia's La Preciosa mine in the Norte de Santander province, rescuers wearing oxygen masks and using ventilation machines continued to pull out bodies. Relief workers said they had recovered 17 of an estimated 21 bodies so far.


"We're going to review every way mines are controlled and how the regulations are used to avoid these accidents. That's where there's a need for much more effectiveness, I believe," Santos said from Switzerland, where he is attending the meeting of top executives in Davos.


"If there are effective and rigorous controls, these tragedies would not happen," he added in a transcript of a news conference published on the presidency's website.


Santos said he was cutting his European trip short to go to the scene of the accident.


The mining regulator Ingeominas said on Wednesday the blast at La Preciosa mine had probably been caused by methane gas and initial figures had shown 20 dead. [ID:nN26228857] It said the same mine had an explosion in 2007, which killed 32 people.


Colombia's coal industry is dominated by major players with open-pit mining operation of thermal coal. But some smaller mines in the Andean nation are dug underground where methane gas buildups can cause accidents.


Last June, a blast killed 70 miners in Colombia, while in November, nine people died at two small coal mines in the central province of Cundinamarca.


Despite the recent run of accidents, conditions for workers in Latin America's mines have improved radically in recent decades from the nightmarish conditions of past centuries after Spanish conquistadors began a hunt for gold.


The modern-day industry has helped fuel an economic boom in some nations, including Colombia, where mining is one of the main generators of foreign exchange. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)

 

Available: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/01/27/colombia-coal-blast-idUKN2...


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