North Sulawesi―Indonesian rescuers scrambled Wednesday to find dozens buried in the collapse of an illegal gold mine that killed at least three people, the disaster agency said.
The effort to save survivors at the remote site on Sulawesi island was hampered by steep terrain and unstable soil conditions after the collapse triggered a landslide Tuesday evening, it said.
Three people have been found dead while 14 others were pulled from the rubble alive early on Wednesday, according to officials.
“Dozens of people were mining for gold at this location when suddenly beams and supporting boards broke due to unstable soil conditions,” said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
More than three dozen people may still be trapped at the site in the Bolaang Mongondow region of North Sulawesi, where some five miners were killed in December after an illegal gold mine accident.
The mineral-rich Southeast Asian nation has scores of unlicensed mining sites and safety regulations are routinely flouted.
Some of the still-buried victims were responding to rescuers’ calls but it was not clear how many were still alive.
Ground conditions at the mine were unstable due to the large number of holes dug by the miners, officials said.
“We still have hope. When we called them they still responded from down there, asking for help,” local disaster agency official Abdul Muin Paputungan said.
“We can’t use heavy machinery because the location is very steep... it could endanger the victims,” Paputungan said.
Rescuers were trying to get water to the buried miners but feared a wrong move could make the situation worse.
“There are a lot of challenges because the rocks that fell are in a very dangerous position,” Paputungan said.
“We’re trying to be extra careful.”
Local hospital chief Wahdiana Mantang said nine patients had been released after the accident and several others were being treated for injuries.
“They’re suffering from lacerations, gashes and some have broken bones,” she added.
Environmentalists called on local officials to enforce regulations and safety measures in response to the accident.
“We predicted this was going to happen,” said Theo Runtuwene, a local director for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment.
“The area is mountainous and (miners) dug holes there, which is extremely risky... There are dozens of sites in North Sulawesi where the ground is very unstable, especially during the rainy season,” he added.
In 2016, 11 miners died after a mudslide engulfed an illegal gold mine in Sumatra’s Jambi province.
A year before, 12 people were killed when a shaft collapsed after they tunneled into a disused gold mine on Java island.