Zenica (Bosnia-Hercegovina) (AFP) - Five Bosnian coal miners died after an earthquake triggered a gas explosion and tunnel collapse, trapping dozens of men underground for 20 hours, an official said Friday.
"This accident is a big tragedy for the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Unfortunately five lives were lost," regional governor Nermin Niksic said.
"We share the pain of the families of miners who have died," he added.
The accident occurred in the Raspotocje mine in the suburbs of Zenica, in central Bosnia, which was hit on Thursday by a 3.5-magnitude earthquake.
Twenty-nine other miners, visibly exhausted and covered in dirt, emerged into daylight on Friday after rescue crews broke through to the gallery 600-metres (yards) underground where they had been sheltering.
Some were carried on stretchers while the weakest walked with help of rescuers.
Twenty-five of them were hospitalised but none with life-threatening injuries, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Digging with hands
"We were digging with hands and throwing coal everywhere. We were even puting it into pockets, on the sides," one of the rescuers told AFP.
"The traped miners have been also digging on their side. When there were only five meters (16 feet) to dig we heard them. We then pushed them a pipe in which we poured water and they were drinking on the other side. Then we made a hole just sufficient for them to pass through," Savudin Dizdarevic explained.
Niksic praised the rescuers for "making superhuman efforts to save their comrades".
Two miners were injured in the gas explosion, and were hospitalised overnight. One of them, Muris Tutnjic, told local media: "I was lucky."
Another 22 miners managed to make it out earlier, just after the blast, mine manager Esad Civic said.
Several families stayed in front of the mine for hours waiting for rescue operations to end, then burst into tears when they realised that their relatives had not walked out.
Mine expert Nuraga Duranovic said the bodies of the four victims were seen by their rescued comrades while the fifth one was reported missing.
He was a young man who had started to work in the mine three days ago, Duranovic told reporters.
Rescue operations were called off late Friday, "but we will go down tomorrow again," Duranovic said.
The coal mines around Zenica, northwest of the capital Sarajevo, are notorious for deadly accidents.
In 1982, 39 miners were killed in an explosion.
In March in the Raspotocje mine, which has being exploited for over 130 years, 11 miners were injured when a tunnel collapsed.
In one of the worst mining accident in the world, 180 miners were killed in a gas explosion in August 1990 in the mine of Kreka, near the northeastern town of Tuzla.
No other major damage was reported from the quake, which struck 53 kilometres (31 miles) northwest of Sarajevo.