ZENICA Bosnia (Reuters) - Five Bosnian miners were confirmed dead on Friday, a day after an earthquake triggered a collapse at the Raspotocje mine, as emergency teams helped 29 others to the surface.
The manager of the mine, Esad Civic, said a total of 34 miners had been trapped 500 meters (1,600 feet) below ground by Thursday’s rock burst.
“The mining accident in the Raspotocje pit is a huge tragedy for all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We lost five lives, unfortunately,” Nermin Niksic, the prime minister of Bosnia’s autonomous Bosniak-Croat federation, told the Fena news agency.
Survivors had earlier reported seeing four bodies in a still-inaccessible underground passage.
Thursday’s 3.5-magnitude earthquake near the central Bosnian town of Zenica caused rocks in the nearby mine to fracture explosively, officials said.
Thirty-nine miners died in a rock burst in Raspotocje in 1982, and Civic said two previous rock bursts at the mine this year had injured 16.
Dozens of relatives waited anxiously inside the rundown socialist-era complex for news of their loved ones.
“We are so worried,” 12-year-old Maida Isakovic said through tears before her father Fejzo was named as one of the dead.
Some relatives criticized the mine management, particularly for saying initially that only eight people were trapped.
Several miners with faces blackened by coal dust were stretchered to emergency vehicles as soon as they came to the surface, while others were able to walk unaided.
Dzenan Hodzic, spokeswoman for the local hospital, said 26 miners had been admitted to the hospital and another two to a local emergency ward. “None of them has life-threatening injuries,” she said.
Raspotocje produces coal for Bosnia’s largest power utility, EPBiH, and employs 430 miners.
Civic said it had been one of the best equipped mines in the region before the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but had been damaged by shelling in the Bosnian war and had not been substantially upgraded since.
In 2009, the Federation government merged seven coal mines, including Raspotocje, with EPBiH to supply its coal-fired plants, and the utility pledged to invest more than 200 million Bosnian marka ($133.5 million) over five years to improve working conditions.
It has so far spent 140 million marka, but Raspotocje has seen little of that.
Writing by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Kevin Liffey