AMAGA, Colombia - More than 70 miners were trapped and feared dead in an overnight coal mine explosion in Colombia that killed at least 16 miners, authorities said on Thursday.
The gas explosion occurred just after midnight at the San Fernando mine in Amaga town in northwestern Antioquia province, far from the major coal operations run by large companies such as Drummond and Glencore near the Caribbean coast.
"This is a huge tragedy, initially we have reports of 72 people trapped and now we have 16 bodies recovered," President Alvaro Uribe said.
Anxious relatives sobbed and hugged each other as they waited for news and asked rescue workers for details as hearses drove past with bodies of miners.
Luz Amanda Pulido, a national disaster official, told local radio there was "practically no" chance of pulling out miners alive from the mine.
Colombia, the world's No 5 coal exporter, has enjoyed a boom in energy and mining investment under Uribe, who sent troops out to drive back left rebels who targeted oil and mining infrastructure for attacks.
Hundreds are killed or injured every year while prospecting for gold or coal in often makeshift mines in Colombia, which is increasingly a target for foreign gold companies attracted by better security under Uribe.
A methane gas explosion in a coal mine killed eight workers last year also in Antioquia province and in 2007, 31 miners were killed in an explosion Norte de Santander in one of the worst disasters of its kind in a decade.