SAN JUAN DE SABINAS, Mexico – Relatives vowed to keep vigil outside a collapsed coal mine in northern Mexico until the remains of 65 missing miners are recovered following last week's mine explosion.
Maria Cantu said Sunday she's come to terms with the fact that her 32-year-old son, Raul Villasana, will never emerge from the mine alive, but insisted his remains must be brought out.
"They have the obligation to get them out of there so they can have Christian burials," she said. "The mine is no kind of tomb for them."
On Saturday, mining company officials acknowledged there was no way the trapped coal miners could have survived, ending a week of anguish for relatives holding out hope for their rescue.
Scientists and executives from mine owner Grupo Mexico SA de CV say it will be at least Monday before it is safe enough to resume recovery efforts. Officials said they didn't know how long it would take to search the mine, about 85 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas.
Aranely Saucedo and about 15 other relatives of the miners said they would send family members to camp outside the mine entrance in shifts for weeks. They said they were afraid that if they don't keep a close watch, company officials will simply declare their loved ones lost for good.
"I'm going to be here until they pull him out," said Saucedo, 24, whose 27-year-old husband, Jesus Alberto de Leon, was in the mine. "We'll see if tomorrow they go back in. We are going to wait here, because, if not, they will close the mine."
Some 600 relatives lived in a tent city outside the mine, braving bitterly cold nights, until officials suspended a six-day search Friday because the air inside the mine was too toxic to breath.
The suspension prompted many relatives to head home. More left Saturday after Grupo Mexico subsidiary Industrial Minera Mexico said there was no way any of the miners were still alive.
Authorities have promised a full investigation of what happened in the minutes before the explosion. The mine had passed recent government inspections.
Twelve miners working near the entrance of the mine were rescued after the pre-dawn explosion and treated for burns and broken bones. Grupo Mexico said Sunday the survivors will receive $9,500 in compensation, while relatives of those killed will get about $75,000.
The federal government has also promised to give each family that lost a miner a house and scholarships so that their children can go to college.
Cantu, whose son had children ages 14, 13 and 6, said monetary compensation won't make the pain go away — but will help families as they struggle to move on.
"Even if they give me everything in the world, that won't bring my son back," she said. "But my grandchildren, my daughter-in-law, they need help."