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Yesterday, I received the news that 37 people were killed including three newspaper journalists who had rushed to the scene covering the crash as a truck loaded with dynamite collided with a van in an accident in the state of Coahuila, northern Mexico. Mexico's Preventive Federal Police said Monday that the explosion also left some 190 injured, several of them with serious wounds.

A truck with 25 tons of ammonium nitrate picked up from an Orica Ltd. explosives plant in Monclova and was heading to a mine in the southwestern state of Colima caught fire after a highway crash and blew up, drawing a crowd of curious onlookers as well as a small army of police, soldiers, emergency officials and journalists. Shortly after the crowd arrived, the wreckage caught fire, and the ammonium nitrate exploded, sending a ball of fire into the sky that consumed nearby cars and left a crater of up to 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter in the road. "Everyone who was a witness to the accident is dead," a federal police official said. It remained unclear whether the truck had the necessary permits to transport explosives.

Coahuila is a mining state where explosives are used in the coal industry and where I took this picture 2 years ago of the mining activity in San Juan de Sabinas.

On Feb 19, 2006 at the Unidad Pasta de Conchos mine near the community of San Juan de Sabinas, a fatal explosion has drawn attention to the poor safety conditions for workers in the Mexican mining industry, particularly in coal extraction. The incident killed 65 miners who were trapped underground. The explosion sent temperatures above 600 degrees Celsius (1,100 Fahrenheit), enveloping the mine with lethal amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. Rescuers have found the bodies of two miners but tons of wood, rock and metal, as well as toxic gas, have hindered the recovery of the others.

Following the blast, reports quickly surfaced of alleged bribery and cover-up involving federal mine inspectors. In March 2007, a judge has ordered the arrest of five mine managers and inspectors on charges of negligent homicide in the deaths of 65 coal miners.

In the long months that have passed since the deadly explosion, Coahuila Bishop Raul Vera of Saltillo has regarded the Pasta de Conchos disaster as the latest chapter in an ongoing horror story of poverty and death that haunts the northern Coahuila coal-mining district. According to a report, at least 1,663 miners have perished in accidents in the zone during the last 117 years. The report also contended that poor structural conditions, scanty ventilation, lack of monitoring equipment, and non-existent emergency exits and alarms were all grave problems at Pasta de Conchos.

There have been various fatal mining accidents in Coahuila. The worst tragedy was in 1969 when more than 153 miners were killed in a pit at the village of Barroteran. In 2001, another 12 people died in an accident at a mine near Barroteran. Another local mine explosion killed 37 in 1998.

Coahuila is Mexico's top coal-mining state, serving the local steel and power industries. Many of the mines are deep underground. The mining area is 60 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas. Miner only makes 600 pesos (US$57) a week but nobody could afford to quit even thought they knew about the danger.

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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 472 W: 128 N: 2360] (8578)
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