|Over 20 bodies have so far been recovered in the coal mine in Baluchistan province [Reuters]
Hope continues to fade for the possibility of finding 52 miners trapped underground in southwestern Pakistan.
Rescue workers used shovels and bare hands on Monday to dig out those buried by explosions that occurred in a coal mine in Baluchistan province on Sunday.
The miners were working around 1,200m underground at the time of the blasts. The mine in the Sorange district of the war-torn province was poorly ventilated and gas accumulated.
Officials have said they feared all 52 miners underground at the time of the accident were dead.
"The workers have recovered 24 bodies after digging through one of the mine's three wings," Iftikhar Ahmed, a top mine inspector, told the Associated Press.
"The search was slowed by the presence of poisonous methane gas, which caused Sunday's explosions, and also by the fragile state of the mine, which prevented the use of heavy machinery. We have yet to dig out and search the remaining two wings, but there is zero per cent chance we can get anybody alive."
Ahmed also said that 10 of the dead miners they have found were charred from the explosion, while the others appeared to have been killed by falling debris or suffocation.
He added that the bodies found so far were at a depth of about 600m, but the mine continues down to 4,000m.
The mine was declared dangerous two weeks ago, but the warning was ignored. The facility is owned by the state-run Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation but leased to a contractor, Ahmed said.
Ghulam Rasool, a 25-year-old miner who spent all morning searching for victims, said the work was exhausting and hampered by gas fumes.
"The mine's wooden support has collapsed at many points, leaving huge chunks of debris blocking the way,'' he said.
More than 200 people stood outside the mine entrance waiting to help or hear news from the search. Most were mine workers who have friends or relatives trapped in the mine. Seven of the dead found so far were from a single family from the Swat Valley.
Ghulam Mohammad, a 30-year-old miner who was waiting his turn to join the search, said he feared for the lives of his roommates who were in the mine at the time of the accident.
"None of my five roommates has been found dead or alive yet,'' he told the Associated Press.
Outside the mine, more than 20 wooden caskets were set out on the ground, waiting for victims who had not yet surfaced.
Rich in mineral wealth, Baluchistan is plagued by an uprising blamed on nationalist tribesmen demanding more jobs and royalties from the region's natural resources. Hundreds of people have died in the violence since 2004.
Most coal mines in the impoverished province are notorious for poor safety standards and facilities. Similar deadly accidents have occurred in the past.