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Death toll from S.African coal mine blast climbs to 18

The death toll from a gas explosion that occurred at disused South African coal mine on February 3 rose to 18 after rescuers recovered 13 more bodies, police said Friday.

The disaster occurred at Gloria coal mine, located near the town of Middelburg in the eastern province of Mpumalanga.

More than 20 people went into the mine, reputedly to steal copper cables.

Michael Elliott, who is coordinating the rescue operations, told AFP said four bodies were initially brought out shortly after the explosion, and a fifth fatality died in hospital.

Last week rescuers discovered seven bodies but failed to pull them out due to dangerous levels of methane gas.

On Friday they went back underground and came out with 13 bodies.

“Today’s retrieval brings the total number of bodies brought to the surface to 18 thus far,” police spokesman Leonard Hlathi said in a statement.

“These are bodies of people who … went into a mine shaft where they allegedly intended to steal copper cables,” police spokesman Leonard Hlathi.

He said another group forced its way into the mine apparently to rescue the trapped people, but “suffered the same fate”.

Elliot said another nine are believed to be still inside the mine, according to information gathered from the local community.