Luis Armando once again asked himself if it is worth risking his life in the coal mines of Agujita, in northern Mexico, where ten colleagues remain trapped. But he must do it so that his children study and do not have to follow in his footsteps.
“When everything is fine, you don’t think about the danger. But things are already happening and you think about quitting, looking for another job,” admits Luis Armando Ontiveros near the sinkhole where some 300 rescuers are fighting to get the injured workers out alive last Wednesday.
However, changing jobs at the age of 48 does not seem like an option for Luis Armando, who has made a living from a very young age digging coal tens of meters deep.
“We have always worked on this and it is very difficult to leave it,” he told AFP amid the anguish of the families of the trapped miners and the coming and going of rescuers.
Like many residents of the coal zone in the state of Coahuila, mining for him is a family heritage.
“My dad took me to work there. We work in pure wells. Almost all of us are miners”, he says, referring to the dangerous “pocitos”, ditches through which the workers descend and the ore is extracted.
He himself survived an event similar to the one on Wednesday, when a 60-meter-deep sinkhole collapsed when suddenly flooded. Five workers managed to escape.
Aware of always being exposed to fatality, Luis Armando proudly points out that his three children study so as not to go through the same thing.
“Make it worth the work, the risk, so that they don’t come here,” says the miner, whose monthly salary is equivalent to about 500 dollars on average, almost two minimum wages.
“My dad is not going to resist it”
The authorities sought this Friday to reduce the level of the water, which still covers a depth of 30 meters, so that rescue teams can enter.
To that end, dozens of workers from the state Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) are in charge of keeping the extractor pumps working.
Nearby are the camps where relatives await news, along with Army and Civil Protection personnel.
Although some keep the faith that their loved ones will be rescued alive, the hopes of others are dashed.
“If something were to happen to him, which I hope to God not, my father will not resist it,” says María Guadalupe Cabriales, referring to her brother Mario Alberto, one of those trapped.
“You feel that he has hope, but at the same time he says ‘no, I feel that my son is not going to come,’” he adds about the expressions of Antonio, 81, who taught Mario Alberto the trade.
The old man remembers that his son began this apprenticeship as soon as he was old enough to work.
“I taught him to lay coal and everything, at 18 years old, I never forced him to work until he told me: Dad, get me a job where you are,” he recalls.
María Guadalupe assures that if her brother comes out alive, she will not allow him to go down a hole again.
“If he lives, he will no longer work in the wells, he should work on something else that after all, the family eats as they wish,” warns the woman.
The coal zone of Coahuila, the main producer of the mineral in Mexico, has already been the scene of other incidents.
In June 2021, seven miners died after the collapse of another mine in Múzquiz. Likewise, on February 19, 2006, in the most serious mining tragedy in this region bordering the United States, a gas explosion in the Pasta de Conchos deposit, controlled by the Grupo México conglomerate, killed 65 workers. Only two bodies were recovered then.
Érika Escobedo, who awaits news of her husband Hugo Tijerina, 29, confesses that she seeks to remain strong in the face of any outcome.
“I need to be controlled for what comes and whatever they tell me,” says the 27-year-old, who has had to adjust her version of events to protect her children. “I tell them that their father is out (…), and well, they are calm right now,” she confesses.
(With information from AFP)