Thursday, February 23, 2006

Little Progress Four Days After Mexico Explosion

It is a long time, I believe, since this continent has seen a coal mine emergency of this magnitude. Possibly it has been since the 1968 explosion in Farmington, W.Va., when 78 died.

Some 65 miners remain missing after an explosion last Sunday at Grupo Mexico S.A. de C.V.'s Pasta de Conchos mine, about 85 miles from the U.S. border in the state of Coahuila, AP reported today. Reportedly rescuers were getting close to an area where two miners might have been.

MSHA's emergency operations team was dispatched Tuesday, the first time in several years that the agency has sent help to a mine emergency on foreign soil. They should be on site by now.

And in a familiar note, communication has become an issue here as well:

"The lack of news added to the strain on the hundreds of weary relatives of the trapped miners. The family members have camped outside the mine in the bitter cold since Sunday's pre-dawn explosion.

"A crowd of about 600 shouted at Vilchis until he took refuge behind a line of five soldiers guarding the entrance to the Pasta de Conchos mine.

"'What are you hiding?' shouted one man. 'If you don't tell us the truth we will go into the mine ourselves.'

Yadira Gallegos, whose brother-in-law is trapped in the mine, accused officials of lying to them.

"'They said they would tell us something at three o' clock, but they never came out. We want answers,' she said.

"The crowd calmed down when two rescue workers emerged from the pit in the evening and urged them to have patience."
Reuters has a piece on the economic realities of coal mining in Mexico. Sample:

"...with miners' wages often no more than 700 pesos ($67) a week, plus performance bonuses, there are few signs of prosperity here....

"Food is not scarce but it is basic -- potatoes, beans and tortillas, with a little meat thrown in once a week. New clothes for the children are bought when twice-yearly bonuses, obligatory under Mexican law, are paid.

"Life in the mines anywhere in the world is tough but some miners here say their hunger for the performance bonuses encourage accidents.

"Pedro Calzoncit Hernandes...has worked at area coal mines for more than 30 years. He said workers often ignored basic safety procedures and kept digging instead of laying down tools to check wires and ventilation pipes.

"'We earn a salary that feeds us, nothing more,' he said. 'That's why the desire to keep working often wins when really work should stop.'"
The Houston Chronicle also has a story on miners' lives, but gives it a macho take:

"Men continue going into the mines, their wives, mothers and lovers will say, because there's no other work. Poverty condemns them, the women say.

"'People who earn so little have no chance to educate their children,' said Maria Esther Martinez, 39...who hopes to keep her 15-year-old son from the tunnels. 'And a child without education hasn't any choices, at 18 years old it's to the mines.'

"...But that's not completely true, some miners say.

"There are options — area factories make everything from clothing to auto parts, steel foundries hire in Monclova and Monterrey, good-paying jobs await any man willing to illegally cross the Rio Grande. Many miners also have a bit of farmland, where they raise crops and livestock. But mining gets into a man's blood, some say. The camaraderie of riding down into the depths.

"...Mining's a calling, something a man can take pride in. Not everyone is willing to go down the holes, not everyone should.

"'It's a beautiful job, a worthy job,' said Ignacio Moreno, 38, who clocked out after the second shift at the No. 8 mine Saturday night, going to bed just a few hours before the 2 a.m. explosion trapped the 65 men."
We can bet the factory wages are less than mining, and it seems a little odd to imply that the mines must all right because illegal immigration provides an alternative.

But as for mining getting into the blood, that sounds like something U.S. and Mexican miners share: a proud heritage and a very special bond.


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