By Wojciech Zurawski
POLKOWICE, Poland, March 20 - 19 miners were pulled alive and well from a copper mine in southern Poland on Wednesday after a small earthquake trapped them 600 metres below the surface late the previous night.
It took seven hours to tunnel through collapsed rock to reach the miners who were working at the Rudna copper mine in southern Poland when a small tremor trapped them there at 10:09 pm (2109 GMT) on Tuesday.
Two were treated for minor injuries, while the others, shaken up and covered with grime after a gruelling night, were on their way home.
Families of the miners, who gathered near the mine, cheered when the mine’s operator, KGHM, announced that all 19 were found alive and were slowly being taken out through a hole dug by the rescuers.
“This was the biggest accident in KGHM history,” Chief Executive Herbert Wirth told Reuters. “Never in our history has it happened that 19 miners were trapped with no contact.”
The Rudna mine is about 400 km (249 miles) southwest of the Polish capital. Officials with KGHM had previously said there were 18 miners trapped in the pit.
After the quake on Tuesday, workers on the surface lost contact for several hours with the trapped miners because communication lines into the shafts had been severed.
The mine is in the Silesia region, near Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic. It has been in operation since 1974. State-controlled KGHM is Europe’s second-biggest copper producer.
Poland has large numbers of mines, mostly in the heavily industrialised Silesia region. In 2006, a gas explosion at a coal mine in the region killed 23 miners.