Rescue workers used shovels and bare hands Monday to dig out victims buried by explosions in a coal mine in southwestern Pakistan, and officials said they feared all 52 miners underground at the time of the accident were dead.
The workers have recovered 24 bodies after digging through one of the mine's three wings, said Iftikhar Ahmed, a top mine inspector. The search was slowed by the presence of poisonous methane gas, which caused Sunday's explosions, and also by the fragile state of the mine, which prevented the use of heavy machinery, he said.
"We have yet to dig out and search the remaining two wings, but there is zero percent chance we can get anybody alive," said Ahmed.
Ten of the dead miners they have found were charred from the explosion, while the others appeared to have been killed by falling debris or suffocation, said Ahmed. The bodies found so far were at a depth of about 2,000 feet (600 meters), but the mine continues down to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters).
The mine is located in Baluchistan province, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the provincial capital, Quetta.
The mine was declared dangerous two weeks ago, but the warning was ignored, said Ahmed. The mine is owned by the state-run Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation but leased to a contractor, he said.
Ghulam Rasool, a 25-year-old miner who spent all morning searching for victims, said the work was exhausting and hampered by gas fumes.
"The mine's wooden support has collapsed at many points, leaving huge chunks of debris blocking the way," said Rasool.
More than 200 people stood outside the mine entrance waiting to help or hear news from the search. Most were mine workers who have friends or relatives trapped in the mine. Seven of the dead found so far were from a single family from the Swat Valley.
Ghulam Mohammad, a 30-year-old miner who was waiting his turn to join the search, said he feared for the lives of his roommates who were in the mine at the time of the accident.
"None of my five roommates has been found dead or alive yet," said Mohammad.
Outside the mine, more than 20 wooden caskets were set out on the ground, waiting for victims who had not yet surfaced.