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Rescue Team Locates Last of Miners Killed in Argentine Coal Mine Accident - 2004-06-20

Emergency workers in southern Argentina have called off their mission after locating the final victims of this week's deadly coal mine fire that claimed the lives of 14 miners.

Argentine teams worked alongside United Nations rescue squads around the clock this week, searching for possible survivors of a deadly fire that swept through a coal mine in the Patagonian town of Rio Turbio on Monday.

The dead bodies had been pulled from the mine throughout the week, victims of falling debris and carbon monoxide poisoning caused after a fire erupted on a conveyor belt deep inside the mine.

Several workers had been more than 600 meters (2,000 feet) underground and more than 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the mine's entrance when the fire broke out.

In recent days, the mission turned from that of rescue to recovery and on Sunday, the last bodies were found - bringing the final death toll to 14 - the deadliest in the mine's 60-year history.

The recovery effort was hampered by difficult working conditions including darkness, lack of oxygen and extreme heat. Some of the bodies found deep inside the mine were already in an advanced state of decomposition, further complicating workers attempts to remove them. One emergency worker reportedly fainted from the strong odor, while another had a panic attack inside the mine.

The mine had been privately run for the 12 years prior to 2002, when then-President Eduardo Duhalde put the mine into state trusteeship.

Employees of the mine have blamed the accident on poor management. Argentine Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez said this week that the government is committed to bringing better working conditions and wages to the state-run mine.

The mine currently employs more than 1,000 workers from the surrounding area, including many Chilean citizens.

The town of Rio Turbio is located 1,500 miles southwest of Buenos Aires on the border with Chile and in the province of Santa Cruz, the home province of Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who attended the funerals of some of the victims alongside family and friends.