Colombian miners carries the body of one of the miners who died in a coal mine explosion in Sardinata
Daniel Munoz  /  Reuters
Colombian miners carry the body of one of the miners killed in a coal mine explosion in Sardinata, Colombia, on Sunday.
updated 2/4/2007 8:58:12 PM ET 2007-02-05T01:58:12

Crews battling dangerously high levels of methane gas have recovered the bodies of 30 coal miners killed in an explosion in northeast Colombia, an official said Sunday.

Initial efforts to remove the bodies trapped more than 1,300 feet underground by Saturday’s explosion were hampered by toxic gases, said Fernando Rosales, director of civil defense in Norte de Santander state.

Rosales said 31 miners died inside the makeshift mine, while another managed to escape after the explosion but died at a hospital in Cucuta, capital of Norte de Santander.

“There’s one body remaining which crews will try to remove tomorrow,” Rosales said.

Dangerous levels of trapped methane made it impossible for work crews to remain below ground for extended periods.

President Alvaro Uribe visited the site, 255 miles northeast of Bogota, and vowed the government would provide economic assistance to victims’ families in case the owner of the mine had not contributed to employees’ pension fund — a frequent labor violation in the poorly regulated industry.

He told family members gathered outside the mine “he was overcome with grief” and promised an investigation into whether the mine had passed recent safety inspections.

The explosion was likely caused by a build up of methane gas inside one of the tunnels that ignited after a spark accidentally went off, said Rosales.

Many of the bodies were completely incinerated and heavily bruised by falling rocks, he added.

Norte de Santander is a violence-ridden state overrun by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups who often battle each other for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes across the border with Venezuela.

Many mines in this Andean nation are makeshift affairs with few or no safety procedures. In 2001, at least 37 gold miners were killed after a hillside gave way and swept over them at a strip mine 120 miles west of Bogota.

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