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All 65 workers dead in Mexico mine blast - company

Written by: Staff

SAN JUAN DE SABINAS, Mexico, Feb 26 (Reuters) The 65 men trapped by a Mexican coal mine explosion six days ago cannot have survived their ordeal underground and are all dead, mine owners said.

The Grupo Mexico company said yesterday that while no bodies had yet been found, tests showed there was almost no oxygen inside the mine's shafts and tunnels and no hope of finding survivors from the explosion last Sunday.

''We are going to move on to the hard task of the physical recovery of our miners ... so the families can start their mourning,'' said Xavier Garcia, a senior executive at Grupo Mexico.

Relatives who have held a vigil at the mine gates since last Sunday wept and hugged each other after being told there was no chance their men would be rescued alive. Red Cross officials treated 10 people suffering from emotional distress.

Some families quickly packed up their things and made their way home, while others accused company officials of negligence and deceiving the families with talk of possible rescues earlier in the week.

''They tricked us because they knew from the beginning how the mine was,'' said Aida Farias, whose husband, Elias Valero, was one of the 65 men trapped deep in the mine's tunnels. ''They played with us like puppets.'' Rescue teams spent several days digging desperately at huge piles of collapsed rock and dirt, hoping to find a way through to the trapped men inside the Pasta de Conchos mine in Mexico's northern state of Coahuila.

The search was suspended on Friday night because high levels of methane gas threatened to spark a new explosion like the one that ripped through the mine last Sunday morning.

Mine officials say methane gas is lethal when it rises to above 15 percent of the atmosphere.

No contact was made all week with any of the missing men, and their only chance of survival had been if they were close to a large pocket of clean air or if ventilator shafts were pushing enough clean air into their area of the mine.

A US team of experts helped carry out the tests that demonstrated the quality of air was so bad inside the mine that no one could survive.

Relatives exploded in anger and roughed up Labor Minister Francisco Salazar after they were told the search was being postponed on Friday. Some complain rescuers were not given sophisticated heat-seeking equipment to locate the miners.

Grupo Mexico has said it will pay compensation of about 70,000 dollar for each of the men killed.

Union leaders say Grupo Mexico ignored safety concerns, but the company has denied negligence and said a recent government check on conditions at the mine concluded it was safe.

Salazar said an investigation was under way and that Grupo Mexico would face sanctions if it was found to be responsible for the disaster.

Reuters SK VP0635

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