domingo, febrero 05, 2012

Down in the Dark

Accompanying a Colombian Miner on His First Trip Underground Since an Accident Killed His Brother. By Lorenzo Morales and Anna-Katrina Gravgaard.
Under a small icon of Jesus, surrounded by his seven children, Floresmiro Olaya gulps down a breakfast of potato broth and hot chocolate. He’s going back to work today, barely six weeks after a coal mine explosion high up in the Andes mountains of Colombia killed his brother and four friends and left him the lone survivor. When she heard about the accident, Floresmiro’s then-pregnant wife, Estelle, went into shock and gave birth prematurely. The infant, who has not yet been named, is lying on a blanket on his parents’ bed. He lets out a wail. Floresmiro’s oldest child, Michael, picks him up. The father watches.

“The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was to ask God to protect me,” he tells us.
Floresmiro is a jovial 34-year-old, nearly six feet tall, with round, freckled cheeks. Today he’s dressed in grey overalls, jeans jacket, and yellow rubber boots with newspapers wrapped around his feet instead of socks. All the miners wear newspapers around their feet, which they change during lunch break, to keep their feet dry. As we walk out into the cold, misty spring morning, he talks about the accident at the La Escondida mine near the small town of Sutatausa in Cundinamarca district. With every day that passes he remembers new details about the February tragedy.

Floresmiro was halfway down the mine when the blast occurred and the impact threw him clear of the mineshaft. Mine inspectors later said that the explosion was caused by accumulated gases. The molehill-like mine, one of several illegal mines that pockmark the Peñas del Boquerón mountainside, lacked proper ventilation, collapse shelters, and other safety precautions. Floresmiro says it had never been inspected before the accident.

After the explosion blocked the entrance to the mine, locals heard a bell ringing inside, the same one that miners use to signal that the coal cart is loaded and ready to be pulled up the mine shaft. There were survivors down there. Floresmiro imagines it was his brother pulling the string. He imagines him surrounded by dead comrades, slowly suffocating in the darkness.

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