Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Sunday called for intensified efforts to rescue 10 workers trapped in a flooded coal mine, during a visit to see the rescue operation firsthand.
Relatives of the missing became increasingly desperate four days after the mine flooded in the northern state of Coahuila, fearing that time is running out to get them out alive.
Nearly 400 soldiers and other personnel, including six military divers, have joined the rescue, but until now it has been too dangerous to enter the mine, authorities said.
“We have to do everything we do and more” to find the missing miners, Lopez Obrador told reporters during his visit to the site in Agujita.
“I want it to be as soon as possible,” he added.
The emphasis was on pumping water out of the mine to make it safe enough to descend into the shafts, which are 60 meters (200 feet) deep.
“There is progress. The water level continues to fall. Much larger volumes are still being extracted,” said Governor Miguel Angel Riquelme of Coahuila.
Rescue workers were ready to enter the mine “as soon as levels drop,” he added.
Five workers managed to escape from the rough-built mine in the initial aftermath of the disaster, but no survivors have been found since.
Authorities say the miners were digging when they hit an adjacent area full of water.
Efforts around the clock
Lopez Obrador had previously declared Saturday as “a decisive day” for the operation.
But by the end of the day, the water in the mine had receded only about 9.5 meters from the first 34 meters, authorities told relatives.
Liliana Torres, the niece of one of the missing workers, said she had witnessed the ruthlessness of rescuers who “don’t stop all day”, but added that the families were growing “desperate”.
Some families attended mass near their makeshift camp in the community of Agujita to pray for the safe return of their loved ones.
Water flowing from the mine through drainage channels had previously sparked hopes among family members praying that the miners are living in an air pocket.
“We still hope they are in a higher part (of the mine), although there is too much water… but we trust in God,” Elva Hernandez, mother-in-law of one of the incarcerated workers, told AFP.
The Coahuila State Prosecutor’s Office said it interviewed the five workers who managed to escape from the mine.
“Apparently they were displaced by a torrent of water,” Coahuila Attorney General Gerardo Marquez told the press.
He added that his office had requested information from the landowner and mining concessionaire, but declined to name them.
Experts discovered a leak coming from nearby mines and were trying to pinpoint the exact location so they can prevent water from flowing into the area where the workers are trapped, Coahuila’s labor secretary, Nazira Zogbi, said Saturday.
A French company has provided equipment to help with the task, she said, without naming the company.
Coahuila, Mexico’s premier coal region, has experienced a series of fatal mining accidents over the years.
Last year, seven miners died while trapped in the region.
The worst accident was an explosion that claimed 65 lives at the Pasta de Conchos mine in 2006.
After that tragedy, only two bodies were recovered.