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A 'miracle' in Chile, but mining accidents are often tragedies across Latin America

October 14, 2010 |  2:48 pm

 Esteban rojas chile mine rescue reuters

If the remarkable rescue of 33 miners trapped in Chile for 69 days was a "miracle," as some have dubbed it, other mining accidents in recent years have had less happy endings, claiming dozens of lives in Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

Though mining accidents are relatively rare in Chile, a 2007 collapse in the same San Jose mine where "Los 33" were trapped left a miner dead and forced the mine's temporary closure. At another mine in the Copiaco region, a truck collision in 2006 left two miners dead and 70 others trapped for several hours (link in Spanish).

As metal prices rise and companies continue to seek Latin America's rich deposits of minerals and coal, the industry grows faster than some countries can regulate it, says a Forbes report. There are regular conflicts with workers over pay and safety conditions, as well as numerous reports of illegal mining operations -- with hardly any safety oversight or regulations -- in so-called wildcat mines.

Here are some major recent mining accidents in Latin America:

* This month, five miners died in a collapse at a coal mine in northeast Colombia (link in Spanish).

* In August, while the 33 Chile miners were trapped underground, an explosion at a wildcat gold mine in a remote jungle in Venezuela killed six miners. Miners in the area said that the actual toll was 14 or 15.

* In June, an explosion at a coal mine in northwestern Colombia left 70 miners dead, one of the largest death tolls recorded in recent mining accidents worldwide.

* In February, eight miners died after an explosion at a coal mine in northern Peru.

* In 2006, 65 miners died after an explosion at a coal mine in northern Mexico (link in Spanish).

President Sebastian Pinera has vowed to overhaul safety regulations at mines in Chile, the world's top copper producer. Pinera announced the formation of a new commission to examine workplace safety in mines and fired the previous mining minister early in the rescue effort. But safety and regulatory issues remain a major challenge for the industry across the region.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Esteban Rojas kneels and hugs his wife after being the 18th miner rescued from the San Jose mine in Chile. Credit: Reuters

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