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Death toll rises to 8 in cave-in at Polish copper mine

Posted 4:39 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 4:41 p.m. Wednesday

— The director of a Polish copper mine said Wednesday rescue teams have recovered the bodies of the last three workers missing inside the mine after it caved in.

The discovery brought the death toll from the cave-in triggered by an earthquake on Tuesday night to eight.

Director Pawel Markowski called the miners' deaths the greatest tragedy for the copper mining company KGHM in 55 years.

Five other miners have been hospitalized but their lives are not in danger and a few others escaped unscathed.

Markowski said the victims ranged in age from 23 to 50. Rescuers used bare hands and light equipment in difficult conditions to reach the victims, he said

The tremor occurred shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday some 1,100 meters (3,610 feet) underground in the Rudna mine in the southwestern Polish town of Polkowice. The German Research Center for Geosciences reported a magnitude-4.5 shallow earthquake in the region at the time of the cave-in.

Mining authorities and prosecutors have opened investigations into the cave-in.

Rudna is Europe's largest copper ore mine, and one of the biggest in the world, with output capacity of 12 million tons of ore a year.

Spokeswoman Jolanta Piatek said work continued Wednesday in other areas of the mine, which is operated by the KGHM Polska Miedz, or Polish Copper Company.

Piatek said Tuesday's accident brings to 15 the number of fatalities at KGHM facilities this year, 13 of them in copper mines and two in copper mills.

In 2013, 19 miners were trapped in the Rudna mine following a local tremor and a cave-in but they were rescued with no major injuries.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a miner's daughter, visited the mine Wednesday, offering support for the victims' families. Health Minister Konstanty Radziwill visited the hospitalized miners.

Poland's lawmakers observed a minute of silence and prayed for the victims. President Andrzej Duda, on a state visit to Sweden, extended his condolences to the miners' families and pledged state support for them.

Known as the Polish State Mining and Metallurgical Combine under communism, KGHM went through restructuring and partial privatization in 1991 as Poland shifted to a market economy.

It has grown to be one of the world's major copper and silver producers. It also has mines in Chile, Canada and the United States.

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David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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