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Deadly Landslide In Colombia

Hundreds of tons off mud collapsed on gold miners digging into the rain-softened walls of a condemned strip mine in western Colombia, killing at least 28 people and leaving 40 more missing.

For hours, rescuers shoveled furiously in hopes of finding somebody alive, but by late Thursday they had uncovered only bodies. Authorities said they did not expect to find any more survivors.

The victims were said to be poor people who ignored government warnings that erosion had made the mine unsafe. It appeared that both the illegal digging and recent heavy rains were to blame for the accident.

Survivors said two separate collapses occurred at the site in Filadelfia, a small town located 120 miles west of Bogota. The second smothered miners who were trying to rescue friends after the first.

As night fell Thursday at the site, in Colombia's western coffee-growing region, national disasters chief Eduardo Jose Gonzalez said work crews would stop soon and resume the search for bodies Friday.

Gonzalez said 28 bodies had been recovered, and 32 others were injured and taken to hospitals.

Hundreds of people gathered at the scene, including scores of anguished and weeping family members.

Emergency crews from the Red Cross and the civil defense forces used heavy machinery to remove thick mud spread over the site. Complicating the recovery effort, huge pools of water had seeped into the site from a river running up to the hillside - used by the miners to rinse gold particles from dirt.

Survivors said the earth crashed down without warning on a group of about 200 people trying to scrape gold from the well-worn hillside. The workers were toiling with shovels and picks inside a deep hole they had carved into the hill. The cavern had no structural supports.

Many workers managed to scramble out of the way or crawl from the mud. Others were not so lucky.

“We heard a very loud sound and the hill suddenly fell down upon us,” said 20-year-old Manuel Loaiza. “I was trapped up to my knees but some of the others dragged me out.”

Loaiza said he made less than $9 a day at the crude mine. His 39-year-old uncle is still missing under the mud.

According to Julian Arboleda, an aide to Caldas State governor Luis Alfonso Arias, said officials had ordered the mine closed several months ago. But residents out of work amid Colombia's economic downturn took the risk of working there anyway, Arboleda said.

Landslides triggered by rains are Colombia's most common natural disaster, killing dozens of people annually. Thursday's accident was the worst such tragedy in recent years.

According to the government's disaster relief agency, nearly 200 people died in a poor neighborhood in the city of Medellin when a 1987 landslide buried their houses. Landslides buried 150 dam workers in 1983 and a rescue team sent on their behalf.

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