Dozens of rescuers fought Thursday to free ten workers trapped in a flooded coal mine in northern Mexico, where desperate relatives were awaiting news more than 24 hours after the collapse.
As night fell again in the state of Coahuila, family members wept and comforted each other, while the hope of finding survivors dwindled by the hour.
"What we want is for them to recover the bodies," said Angelica Montelongo, looking sad and tired, before regaining hope that her brother Jaime was rescued.
“But hey, God willing, right? You have to have faith that they are alive,” she added.
Soldiers, rescue workers and rescue dogs have been deployed to the Agujita mine in the municipality of Sabinas after the latest disaster to hit Mexico's main coal-producing region.
"What I wish with all my soul is that we save the miners," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters in Mexico City.
“We must not lose faith. We must not lose hope,” he added.
Five miners managed to escape alive after Wednesday's collapse and were taken to hospital, National Civil Defense Coordinator Laura Velazquez said, adding that two of them had been discharged.
“Time is crucial here,” she said.
Authorities said the mine's three shafts descend 60 meters (200 feet) and the water inside is 34 meters deep.
"It's complicated," Ms. Velazquez said.
But the authorities are moving forward and pumping the water "to save the miners as soon as possible", she added.
About 230 military and government personnel were sent to the site, about 1 kilometers north of Mexico City, the defense ministry said.
Several pumps were used to fight the floods, but Ms Lopez Obrador asked the national water agency to send more equipment.
“Unfortunately there is not much hope,” Jose Luis Amaya, whose cousin is among those trapped, told Milenio TV.
Experts and relatives have painted a portrait of a precarious and risky profession, which consists of extracting coal from mines whose safety standards are lax.
"There is always professional insecurity...and danger," said Blasa Maribel Navarro, whose cousin Sergio Cruz has been mining coal for several years to support his two daughters.
Navarro said she still had hope to see him alive "because we trust in God."
Roughly constructed mines, like the one that collapsed, lack concrete reinforcements to protect workers from a collapse, said engineering expert Guillermo Iglesias.
The miners "dig a shaft two meters in circumference and keep digging until they reach a small layer of coal", he told local radio.
The only thing supporting the surrounding earth is usually a large plastic tube through which workers enter, he added.
The Coahuila state government said miners were carrying out excavation work when they hit an adjacent area full of water, causing the shaft to collapse and flood.
Coahuila has experienced a series of fatal mining accidents over the years. Last year, seven miners died when trapped in the area. The worst accident was an explosion that killed 65 people at the Pasta de Conchos mine in 2006.
Only two bodies were saved after this tragedy and the families kept asking the Mexican authorities to recover them.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)