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A preventable mining accident
by Jessica Carner
Sep 04, 2011 | 2055 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
University of Nevada, Reno Professor Emma Sepulveda traveled to Chile in 2010 when 33 miners were trapped when the San Jose Mine collapsed. She spent more than a month in a camp near the mine during the rescue operations and on Friday offered the Sparks Tribune some insight on the situation leading up to the accident.

Mario Sepulveda, father of new UNR student Scarlette Sepulveda, was one of the miners who was trapped. Emma said Mario had a feeling an accident was coming.

“He was a miner for many years,” Emma said. “He operated a machine that opens the walls.”

The San Jose Mine is a copper and gold mine, and the company that was operating the mine was not following codes and procedures it should have been following.

“The mine had some problems,” Emma said, such as perforations that were too close together, which made the walls in the mine more vulnerable to collapse. “(Mario) had an idea that the accident was going to happen, and even told some of his friends, ‘The mine is not safe. We are over-perforating.’ ”

Mario even purchased a life insurance policy and asked his friends to take care of his family if he was killed in a mining accident.

“(The company) just didn’t respect the distance between the perforations,” Emma said.

And signs of a collapse on the day of the accident were ignored by company superiors, she said. The men in the mine twice called their bosses on the surface and said they were hearing unusual noises and seeing abnormal dust.

“They told them to stay down there,” Emma said, at least until their lunch break.

Emma explained it takes 20 to 30 minutes to get out of the mine, and the workers have to be picked up in trucks.

“When a truck went in, the wall fell,” trapping the workers deep inside the mine, she said.

The 33 men spent 17 days in the dark with very little food and only contaminated water to drink.

“They only had enough food for 10 people for five days,” she said. “And the food they had was expired,” which also was the fault of the company.

For 17 days until the men were initially located, each man was rationed one teaspoon of tuna fish, one sip of milk and half of a saltine cracker.
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