Thousands of trapped miners rescued in South Africa

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Map highlighting Carletonville, Gauteng province S. Africa.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

As many as 3,200 mine workers became trapped in the in Elandsrand mine, a gold mine in South Africa about 50 miles (80 km) west of Johannesburg in Carletonville, Gauteng, after an incident on October 3. All miners have been rescued, and none of them were injured. The mine is owned by Harmony Gold Mining Corporation.

The mining company says that a lift electrical cable broke on a basket that was carrying miners, trapping thousands at least 2,200 meters (1.3 miles) below the earth's surface. Reports from MSNBC and the Guardian Unlimited say that the shaft may have collapsed when a water or air pipe burst. The rescue operation went well with no complications, with the rescue taking just under 24 hours to complete.

"They were underground when the accident happened and they were not able to surface because an electric feeder cable that is connected to the mine lift was severed," said a spokeswoman for the mining company, Amelia Soares. The snap was caused by a "fatigued" air pipe which burst and fell down the shaft damaging the "steelwork and electrical feeder cords," added Soares. "They are all in good condition."

"They are all safe. There have been no injuries or deaths," said CEO of Harmony mining, Graham Briggs who also said that the miners were previously contacted and were given "food and water."

Earlier reports had stated that Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesman with the National Union of Mineworkers, said that the miners have not been heard from for hours and that they could have been enduring temperatures as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

"This is a terrible situation. The only exit is blocked, probably by a fall of ground," said Seshoka.

Rescue workers used a mine shaft that is next to the damaged one in an attempt to reach the trapped miners, and lifted them out, 75 at a time. There was no emergency exit in the shaft which is reported to have "not been maintained for ages," added Seshoka.

"An escape route is the most important thing and they have failed miserably. They need to ensure that the shaft is maintained. This is why we have this disaster. Our main worry is for more than 3,000 people who are underground," said National Union of Mineworkers for S. Africa chairman, Deon Boqwana.

Current reports say that "negligence" was the initial cause for the pipe burst and that there has been a history of negligence from the mine. "We suspect negligence. Because of continuous operations there is no time to make adequate checks," said the President of the Miners union, Senzeni Zokwana to reporters during a news conference.

The Elsrand mine is currently under development and has been since February 2001 when Harmony bought the mine. Officials state that the mine will remain closed for a minimum of six weeks, while an investigation is performed, and the mine is deemed safe for miners to continue working in it.

The mine is located in the Witwatersrand Basin of South Africa, which is said to be the location of the largest area of raw gold on the planet.


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