Rescue Begins in S. Africa Gold Mine
October 3, 2007
CARLETONVILLE, South Africa (AP) - Some 3,000 gold miners were trapped deep underground Wednesday when a burst water pipe apparently damaged the elevator shaft, but the company expected to get them out safely over the next 24 hours, officials said. There were no reports of injuries at Harmony Gold Mining Compay's Elandsrand Mine outside Carletonville, located near Johannesburg.
Harmony's acting chief executive, Graham Briggs, said on MSNBC that managers were in contact with the trapped workers and had lowered food and water to them.
A union leader said the miners were hungry and thirsty and had been under ground for hours, some for nearly a day. He described them as fearful and said they were crowded together at an emergency assembly point.
Briggs said rescuers would evacuate the miners using a small cage to raise them up another shaft, but he stressed the process would be a slow one.
``It's a case of getting a large number of people up in cages,'' he told MSNBC, according to Dow Jones news service.
Briggs said the workers - the mine's entire morning shift - became trapped after damage to the elevator shaft made it unsafe to use.
``Nobody was injured, but there was extensive damage to the steel work and electrical feeder cords,'' Harmony Gold spokeswoman Amelia Soares told the South African Press Association.
Soares said some miners were making their way to shafts in an adjacent mine, owned by AngloAshanti.
Peter Bailey, national health and safety chairman for the miners union, said the miners were ``very afraid'' and were hungry and thirsty after being underground for such a long time.
``Some of these mineworkers started duty on Tuesday evening. It is now Wednesday night and they are still underground,'' he said at the scene.
A spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, Lesiba Seshoka, said managers were meeting with union members.
``It's a terrible situation,'' Seshoka told The Associated Press. ``The only exit is blocked, probably by a fall of ground.''
Union officials said a broken water pipe probably caused soil in the shaft to give way.
Seshoka said it wasn't clear how deep the miners were underground, but gold mine tunnels in South Africa are typically about 1 miles below the service.
The union worried that the men could run short of oxygen because of collapsed ground or be impeded by rock falls and mudslides caused the burst water pipe.
Seshoka charged that the mine's shafts were not properly maintained. ``Our guys there tell us that they have raised concerns about the whole issue of maintenance of shafts with the mine (managers) but they have not been attended to,'' he said.
Last year, 199 mineworkers died in accidents, mostly rock falls, the government Mine Health and Safety Council reported in September.