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BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Rescuers worked into the night searching for 15 gold miners missing and feared dead after three vertical shafts flooded Wednesday.
Authorities said the flood was likely triggered by a power outage or an explosion in the shafts, which were 14 meters (about 50 feet) to 27 meters (90 feet) below the surface in the mine near Riosucio, in northwestern Colombia.
"It's completely flooded," Leonardo Mejia, the mine's owner, told The Associated Press from the scene.
He said some of the miners who were working underground managed to escape when they realized something had gone wrong, but he feared the 15 missing were all dead.
President Juan Manuel Santos called on rescuers to "spare no effort" in the search. Authorities brought in extra generators to power pumps to remove the excess water as fast as possible but said it would take at least three days to clear the mine.
Mining accidents are common in Colombia but usually take place in wildcat mines dominated by leftist rebels and criminal gangs.
Natalia Gutierrez, the head of National Mining Agency, said the mine that collapsed Wednesday was in the process of being legalized. But she told Caracol television that preliminary accounts from the site raised questions about whether the mine was complying with safety protocols.
Last year 120 people died in mining accidents, the highest tally since 2011.