Death toll in Colombian mine explosion rises to 21

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The death toll from a massive coal mine explosion in Colombia continued to rise yesterday, with authorities reporting 21 fatalities after rescue efforts failed to save a group of miners trapped underground.

An explosion on Tuesday night had left people trapped between 700 and 900 meters deep, facing horrific conditions including falling oxygen levels, while a few others managed to escape unharmed.

The incident took place in the province of Cundinamarca, 74 kilometers from the capital, Bogotá. The small mining town of Sutatausa, home to only 6,400 people and heavily dependent on coal extraction, was shocked after a spark ignited an accumulation of toxic gasses, according to preliminary reports.

Authorities said the families of the victims would continue to receive salaries for months, but the toll of the accident could reach far beyond them, as the company employs 1,300 workers whose jobs could now be in jeopardy.

After offering his condolences to the families, President Gustavo Petro took the opportunity to highlight the poor working conditions of many facilities, as well as the need to transition away from coal mining.

“Each death is not only a business failure but also a failure of society and of government. Converting labor and business in coal mining areas is indispensable,” Mr. Petro said. “The transition to clean energy goes hand in hand with the workers and businessmen who currently work on fossil fuels.”The incident came as Mr. Petro is discussing a labor reform in Congress that would, among other things, provide automatic inflation-adjustment mechanisms and shorten shifts outside of normal working hours.

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