FIVE Bosnian miners were confirmed dead yesterday after an earthquake triggered a collapse at the Raspotocje mine, as emergency teams helped 29 survivors to the surface.
The manager of the mine, Esad Civic, said 34 miners had been trapped 1,600ft 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, said yesterday.
Survivors had earlier reported seeing four bodies in an 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.
A total of 39 miners died in a rock burst in Raspotocje in 1982, and Mr Civic said two previous rock bursts at the mine this year had injured 16.
Last night, dozens of relatives waited anxiously 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 criticised the mine management, particularly for saying initially that only eight people were trapped.
Yesterday, several miners were stretchered to emergency vehicles as soon as they came to the surface, while others were able to walk unaided.
They looked worried and exhausted and their faces were smeared with coal dust. The rescued men emerged from the Zenica mine to cries of joy from their families after spending the night trapped underground.
“He is alive,” Admira Durakovic, whose husband Amir was among the miners, cried out before breaking down, sobbing and shaking.
Doctors said 26 men were taken to a hospital, six of them badly hurt, but none had suffered life-threatening injuries.
Mr Civic said the rescue effort had been halted after the 29 miners were pulled out.
Families of those who were left behind broke down in tears as authorities closed the pit entrance.
Rescue worker Amir Arnaut said they did everything possible to save the men.
“We could not reach that group of people,” he said. “We could only reach that first group.”
Nuraga Duranovic, a mining inspector, said the deaths cannot be confirmed until the bodies are found.
Alija Celebic, a retired miner, waited for his son Bego, among the 29 who escaped. “He was hurt in the mine just few weeks ago, and now this,” he said.
“All is good as long as he is alive.”
Muris Tutnjic, one of the miners who escaped on Thursday, came to the site yesterday to show his support.
He said the underground blast “just blew us away. I was alone. Thank God I managed to pull myself out. My colleagues, they were some 200, 300, maybe 400 meters away from me – they got covered.”
Raspotocje produces coal for Bosnia’s largest power utility company EPBiH, and employs 430 miners.
Mr Civic said the mine had been one of the best equipped in the region before the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but added that it had been damaged by shelling in the Bosnian war and had not been substantially upgraded since.