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The final coal miners in Spain

Rubn Viejo works on the San Nicols mine in Mieres, Spain. It’s the final coal mine in operation within the nation.

Rubn Viejo remembers that residence was very totally different when the coal trade dominated the Spanish area of Asturias.

After I was a baby, there was quite a lot of life in these cities: kids in every single place, younger folks, outdated folks. Many outlets, cinemas, libraries, nightclubs, bars, stated the 45-year-old Viejo, who’s in control of safety on the San Nicols mine in Mieres. The nights in Mieres had been legendary: you knew what time you began, however by no means what time you’ll get residence.

These days are over.

Now there is just one nightclub left in Mieres, says Viejo.

And San Nicols is the final coal mine in operation in all of Spain.


The mining city of Rioturbio was established within the Fifties and new homes had been constructed to accommodate the mining households. Its inhabitants has declined significantly over time.

Viejo and his spouse, Angela, kiss in a bar in Mieres. Mieres used to have a famend evening life, however this has modified for the reason that closing of the coal mines.

The Miner Memorial of Sotn pays tribute to the hundreds of staff who’ve died throughout the exploitation of coal in Asturias.

For generations, Spain’s coal trade fed extra than simply houses and companies. It additionally boosted native economies.

Within the Fifties, the trade employed 100,000 folks within the nation. As we speak, that quantity is lower than 300.

Asturias, in northwestern Spain, has produced a lot of the nation’s coal over time.

My father advised me many tales about this area as a result of he grew up within the mining basin, stated photographer Lys Arango, who has been documenting this finish of an period. My grandparents settled there within the Fifties when the coal trade was essential and there have been many alternatives.


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Thais Mellado Fernndez pushes a cart within the San Nicols mine. She is without doubt one of the few ladies who works there. At first it is a hostile world, however little by little you acquire energy and accountability and immediately I am a group chief, he advised photographer Lys Arango.

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A door is padlocked within the San Nicols mine.

Not anymore. As Arango found throughout his many travels between 2020 and 2022, a lot has modified for the reason that heyday of the coal trade within the twentieth century.

As much less and fewer coal comes out, there’s much less air pollution. However there’s additionally much less inhabitants, he stated.

His images concentrate on the decline of the varied mining cities and the tales of the previous and current miners who nonetheless name the area residence.

Regardless of the accidents and the truth that every thing was black, even the river, there was quite a lot of life right here, lots of people, remembers Jos Manuel Lamelas, an 80-year-old former miner. Working circumstances improved tremendously and with it, wages. After all, nobody gave it to us. We needed to struggle, take to the streets, protest. The strikes had been legendary, and plenty of issues had been achieved. However we couldn’t cease the closing of mines and the resultant depopulation.


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Mellado Fernndez rests as he waits for the elevator that descends into the galleries of the San Nicols mine. The 36-year-old began working as a miner on the age of 21. Her father died in a mining accident when she was 11 years outdated.

Spain has been shifting away from coal and investing in inexperienced vitality. In 2018, his authorities reached an settlement with mining unions that has been known as the Simply Transition. This settlement would enable miners as much as the age of 48 to say early retirement. Youthful staff could be retrained for clear vitality jobs. And a fund of 250 million euros could be invested in mining communities over 10 years.

Our purpose has been to go away nobody behind, stated Teresa Ribera, Spain’s Minister of Ecological Transition.

The settlement was hailed by many as a mannequin settlement. However there’s nonetheless a protracted method to go.

It isn’t simply the coal trade that is disappearing, Arango stated. All the opposite industries that had been near the mine, like all of the metallurgical industries that gave the devices, the instruments, to the mines, are additionally closing. All of the bars, all of the eating places, all of the life there’s slowly closing down as a result of the younger folks haven’t any extra jobs. They’ve to go away the area to search for work.


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The Soto de Ribera thermal energy station, subsequent to the Naln River in Asturias, was phasing out coal however was nonetheless utilizing it as of final 12 months.

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Adrin San Martn works the evening shift on the San Nicols mine. I come from a household of miners, and my father labored in Olloniego, he advised Arango. I keep in mind completely the primary time I went there. I used to be nonetheless a baby and I used to be fascinated by the motion of individuals, the noise of machines.

Arango stated among the miners really feel deserted.

The economic heritage of Asturias is gigantic and of vital historic relevance. Nonetheless, little or no is completed to maintain it in good situation, stated Adrin San Martn, a 38-year-old miner from Mieres. After I cross the closed mines, like Olloniego, and see the rusted tower and the deserted services, I really feel horrible.

San Martn began working as a miner when he was 24, and he would not know what his future will probably be when San Nicols lastly closes.

What saddens me essentially the most isn’t that the mining will finish, he advised Arango. I perceive that coal pollutes and that we should search for different vitality fashions. However I’m outraged that the mines cease right here if coal from different international locations, similar to South Africa or Colombia, continues to be imported, which arrives on the ports of Europe.


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Six members of Cor Miner Flip sing in a Mieres bar after lunch.

Jos Manuel Lamelas, an 80-year-old former miner, wakes up in his residence in Laviana. My father entered the mine fleeing the poverty of Portugal, he advised Arango. I began once I was 17. I bought to know the mining commerce from the underside up, I went via all the roles, and little by little I studied mining engineering programs. I ended up operating the Tres Amigos mine.

Former miner Oscar Iglesias Abad holds a wood cage along with his canary chicken in entrance of the mine entrance. The miners went down into the galleries with a chicken. If the chicken sang or fluttered, all was properly. If the chicken was silent, or if it was semi-conscious or useless, it meant hazard. The chicken was affected by poisonous fuel earlier than the miners.

Lamelas, the 80-year-old former miner, worries about the way forward for the area.

Younger individuals are leaving the basins looking for work, he stated. I’ve three kids, and all three have left Mieres.

Lamelas is now a part of the Flip Mining Choir, a bunch of former miners who nonetheless sing the songs of the mine whereas nonetheless in work uniform.

We’re the residing reminiscence of this area, he advised Arango.

Lots of the miners share a way of pleasure.

There’s a very sturdy camaraderie on the mine, stated miner Jose Manuel Guerra, 39. You’re employed aspect by aspect with many colleagues in a darkish place and the place that the slightest mistake can value you or your colleagues your life. This creates a really sturdy brotherhood between us.


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4 miners take a break contained in the San Nicols mine. Circumstances are nonetheless fairly robust, Arango stated. They work contained in the mine for about seven hours (at a time). If you wish to eat or drink one thing, you must take it with you as a result of you possibly can’t exit.

Guerra confirmed Arango a tattoo that represents the tower of the primary mine the place he labored. The coal, he says, is actually underneath his pores and skin and that of his fellow miners.

After we reduce contained in the mine, coal mud will get into your pores and skin after which heals, leaving you with a black mark for all times, he defined. I’ve black scratches throughout my physique.

Viejo, head of safety at San Nicols, stays looking forward to the long run.

I’ll by no means depart Mieres, he advised Arango. I dwell fortunately with my spouse and kids. I additionally imagine {that a} renaissance of the basin is feasible.

There are younger folks making an attempt to supply options to the mine. For instance, my colleagues and I’ve arrange a music pageant; others a gastronomic restaurant. We should reclaim this area.


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Maricusa Argelles PĂ©rez, a miner’s widow, walks via the mining city of Barredos. She is without doubt one of the founders of the Ladies for Equality affiliation of the Naln Valley.

An ashtray, a miner’s helmet and a newspaper relaxation on a wood desk in Langreo. The newspaper is from 2013, the 12 months the Candn mine closed.

Jos Manuel Guerra sports activities a brand new tattoo displaying the tower of Monsacro, the primary mine the place he labored.

Author: ZeroToHero

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