ZENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Rescuers on Friday were pulling out some of the 34 miners who had been trapped deep inside a coal mine that collapsed in central Bosnia.
Tired, their faces smeared with coal dust, the men came out of the Zenica mine one by one, after spending the night more than 500 meters (1,600 feet) below the ground.
Anxious family members cried with happiness as they embraced their loved ones. Ambulances were parked outside the mine entrance to take the miners for a medical checkup.
More than two dozen emerged looking relatively well, but there was no firm information on the fate of those still in the mine.
“He is alive!” Admira Durakovic, whose husband Amir was among the miners, cried before breaking down sobbing and shaking.
Alija Celebic, himself a retired miner, waited for his son Bego.
“He was hurt in the mine just two weeks ago, and now this!” Celebic said. “All is good as long as he is alive!”
The union leader at the Zenica coal mine, Mehmed Oruc, said two tunnels in the mine collapsed Thursday evening following a gas explosion triggered by a minor earthquake that had hit the area near the town of Zenica.
He said 22 other miners managed to leave the pit after the tunnels collapsed, two of whom were injured.
Those coming out of the pit appeared shaken and tired, some were weak on their feet, but none seemed seriously injured. The men walked slowly as their children, wives and other relatives ran toward them in joy.
The Zenica coal mine was the site of one of the greatest mining tragedies in Bosnia’s history, when 39 miners were killed in a gas explosion in 1982.
This is the third incident in the mine this year. A total of 16 miners were hurt in two previous gas explosions, the most recent less than four weeks ago.
Families and the union leaders accused the management of poor response to the accident, particularly in initially claiming that only eight people were trapped inside the pit.
Union leaders said authorities only brought in rescue machinery seven hours after the blast.
But, mine manager Esad Civcic insisted that “mine accidents cannot be avoided.” He conceded that the Zenica mine – once among the most modern in Europe – is now far from world standard, following the 1992-95 war that impoverished the country.
Muris Tutnjic, one of the miners who got out on Thursday but came to the site Friday to show support, said the blast “just blew us away.”
“I was alone. … Thank God I managed to pull myself out,” Tutnjic told the Associated Press. “My colleagues … they were some 200, 300 maybe 400 meters away from me, they got covered.”