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Rescuers to begin retrieval of bodies of up to 70 Battlefields mine disaster victims

by Reuters§
16 Feb 2019 at 20:05hrs | Views
Rescuers are expected to start retrieving trapped illegal gold miners in Battlefields on Friday, but none are expected to have survived flooding in the shafts and the number of casualties could rise to 70, the government said.

The accident near Kadoma, 175 km west of Harare, has highlighted the safety issues in illegal gold miners, who last year contributed significantly to the record bullion output of 33 tonnes in Zimbabwe.

The miners were trapped on Tuesday night when the shafts they were working in were flooded after a nearby dam burst. Initial reports suggested the artisanal miners trapped were between 23 and 38, but the government said Friday there could be as many as 70.

Some of the shafts were 100 metres deep and rescue teams from nearby mines and the Civil Protection Unit were pumping water from shafts and tunnels before recovering the bodies. Authorities do not expect to find survivors.

Relatives of the gold miners on Friday expressed frustration at the slow pace of rescue efforts. Rescuers had hoped to start bringing the miners out by Friday afternoon but the amount of water in the pits and underground tunnels slowed progress.

"We lost a lot of people and what is so painful is that we see a lot of rescue people but it's been three solid days without any success," Albert Mazongo, whose two brothers were trapped in the shafts, told Reuters.

Local Government Minister July Moyo said in a statement the government had declared a state of disaster and that up to 70 people could have been trapped in the pits.

"Currently, frantic efforts are being made to pump out the water from the flooded shafts before the retrieval of the victims," Moyo said without giving a timeframe.

Battlefields and surrounding areas are rich in gold deposits and popular with artisanal miners who use picks and shovels and generator-powered water pumps. The makeshift shafts and tunnels can easily collapse in the rainy season when the ground is soft.

The pits are dotted around a clearing some 8km from the main dirt road. On the edges are shacks made of plastic which serve as accommodation for those digging for gold.

At abandoned mines, the miners, known locally as "Makorokoza", usually sneak in at night and can disappear into shafts and tunnels for more than two days.

They sell their gold to central bank subsidiary Fidelity Printers and Refiners or private buyers.

Relatives said the trapped miners were caught unawares as they went about their routine work in the shafts, some of which were 100 meters deep.

"They should give us the chance to go into the pits because we know the pits better than them," Mazongo said, as the sound of water pumps clearing the shafts hummed through the air.

Carlos Daka, who also mines in the shaft but was not working on the fateful night, said he considered himself lucky but was grieving for his colleagues.

"I am in tears because most of the people trapped down there are my age – between 21 and 23 years of age – so really it's so painful that they are trapped," he said.

A spokesman for the Civil Protection Union, which is coordinating the rescue effort, had no immediate comment.

Eunica Zvitiki, a mother whose son was trapped in one of the pits said she did not think he would be found alive.

"From what I am seeing and the level of water I saw, there is little chance of that happening. I am preparing for the worst," she said.

Source - Reuters