Colombian mine blast death toll rises to 21

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The death toll from an explosion at a series of connected coal mines in central Colombia has risen to 21, President Gustavo Petro says, after large-scale rescue efforts to free 10 miners who were trapped underground had failed.

“Despite all the efforts of the rescue teams, unfortunately 21 people lost their lives in this tragic accident in Sutatausa,” a town 74km (46 miles) north of the capital, Bogota, Petro said in a tweet on Thursday morning.

“All my solidarity to their families,” the president wrote.

A day earlier, Cundinamarca Governor Nicolas Garcia told Blu Radio that at least 11 miners had died in the blast, which occurred late on Tuesday due to an accumulation of gases that exploded after a worker’s tool caused a spark. It spread through the connected, legal mines.

Nine miners were able to escape, but 10 were trapped 700 to 900 metres (2,300 to 3,000 feet) underground, Garcia told reporters on Wednesday.

More than 100 rescue workers were deployed to free them.

“My thanks to … each and every one of the rescuers who during these two days gave themselves body and soul to the rescue work in Sutatausa,” Garcia wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning.

“Our hearts are broken,” he said.