May 15, 2015 / 4:24 PM / 2 years ago

Rescuers retrieve six bodies from flooded Colombian mine

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Rescue workers began recovering bodies from an underground gold mine in Colombia where flood waters trapped 15 workers, Colombia’s disaster response service said on Friday.

Six corpses were recovered early Friday from the mine in Riosucio municipality in Caldas province, 220 km (136 miles) northwest of the capital Bogota, as pumps began to lower water levels inside the mine’s access shaft.

Local media reported the accident was caused by a power cut, which shut off pumps that the miners, who were working independently, used to keep out water from a major river that passes beside it and that dozens of other workers escaped before it flooded on Wednesday.

About 80 rescue workers from disaster response services, Colombian Red Cross and the Armed Forces were at the site seeking to recover the remaining victims.

The informal mine was undergoing the formalization process by which the government would enable illegal miners to obtain licenses when they agree to comply with certain norms.

One of the mine’s owners told local media he had begun the process two years ago but authorities had yet to make an official inspection. The National Mining Authority had no immediate comment.

Accidents at Colombia’s illegal mines, which produce most of the country’s gold as well as other minerals, are frequent, but poverty in rural areas drives local residents to take on the work despite precarious conditions.

Last year alone, 87 mine accidents claimed the lives of 120 people, according to government figures. In 2010, 73 people were killed in an explosion at a legally operated coal mine in Antioquia province.

Reporting by Peter Murphy; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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