ZENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Exhausted, dusty but happy to be alive, 29 miners were pulled out one by one Friday from a trouble-plagued coal mine that collapsed a day earlier in central Bosnia. They left behind five men, presumed dead under rubble deep underground and beyond the reach of rescuers.
Emergency workers had dug through more than 100 meters (330 feet) of collapsed mine tunnels 500 meters below the surface to reach the trapped men.
Families of those who were left behind broke down in tears as authorities closed the pit entrance.
"We could not reach that group of people," said rescue worker Amir Arnaut. "We could only reach the first group."
Officials said that an investigation will be launched to determine the cause of the accident, but they suggested it was linked to a 3.5 magnitude earthquake which hit the town of Zenica on Thursday afternoon, according to Bosnia's seismologists. The tremor caused a pressure burst and a gas blast which collapsed the mine, officials said.
It was the third incident at the Zenica pits this year, underscoring the vulnerability of the mines in Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkans, which are generally poorly secured and where miners work with outdated equipment and little protection.
Once communist Yugoslavia's pride, mines likes the ones in Zenica have been badly maintained, and have seen almost no investment and modernization as the region was engulfed in an ethnic conflict in 1990s.
The rescued men, blinking as they faced daylight, emerged from the mine to cries of joy from their families.
"He is alive!" cried Admira Durakovic, whose husband Amir was among the miners. She then broke down, sobbing and shaking.
Twenty-six miners were taken to a hospital, six of them badly hurt, but none suffered life-threatening injuries, doctors said.
Alija Celebic, a retired miner, waited for his son Bego, one of the survivors. Celebic said his son was hurt in the same pit only few weeks ago, but recently returned to work.
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