Six dead after country’s worst coal-mining disaster for 18 years

Emergency services evacuate further five workers to hospital, all in a serious condition, after methane gas leak at León facility

Family members gathered at the Pozo Emilio del Valle mine to await news of their loved ones.
Family members gathered at the Pozo Emilio del Valle mine to await news of their loved ones. J.Casares / EFE

Six people are reported to have died as the result of a methane gas leak at a mine in the Castilla y León region, the emergency services have confirmed. The incident occurred at around 2pm on Monday at the Pozo Emilio del Valle facility in the municipality of Pola de Gordón, where a coal deposit reaching 694 meters in depth is located.

A helicopter, three ambulances and a mobile intensive care unit were dispatched to the mine and evacuated a further five workers, four of whom are in a serious condition in hospital while doctors o Monday evening feared for the life of the fifth. It is the worst accident in the sector in Spain for 18 years, after 14 people were killed in a gas explosion at a mine in Asturias in 1995.

Javier Gallego, a former worker at the complex, explained after speaking to colleagues that it appears the miners encountered a “deposit of gas that did not explode,” adding that a second team of workers had gone to the aid of the group that suffered the worst effects of the leak. Rescue teams said they believed that nobody remained in the mine.

When we say goodbye to our husbands, we don’t know if we will see them again”

One of the deceased, 30-year-old Manuel Moure, was reported as having recently returned to work after the birth of his daughter.

“People think we live in luxury on subsidies, but when we say goodbye to our husbands, we don’t know if we will see them again,” said Laura, whose husband works in the Pozo Emilio del Valle.

Families of the deceased miners were at the complex on Monday awaiting news. Industry, Energy and Tourism Minister José Manuel Soria was also making his way to León province on Monday afternoon.

“There seems to have been a leak of methane gas,” Francisco Castañón, the mayor of the municipality of Pola de Gordón, told a local television station.

Around 40 coal mines are still in operation in Spain, mainly in the north of the country, employing some 8,000 miners. Cuts in government subsidies to the sector have resulted in the threat of closure at several facilities, leading to the so-called “Black March” of miners from Asturias, León, Palencia and Aragon. The protest descended on Madrid last summer after the government announced plans to slash subsidies to the sector by 63 percent in 2012, which labor unions said would essentially augur the end of coal mining in Spain.

Like other European countries, Spain has committed to gradually close unprofitable coal mines over the course of the next few years.

The operator of the mine affected by Monday’s tragedy, Hullera Vasco Leonesa, presented a labor force reduction plan (ERE) in February to temporarily lay off 357 employees at the Pozo Emilio del Valle facility for a period of six months.