At least seven people have died and dozens more are still trapped beneath the rubble of an illegal gold mine that collapsed in Indonesia, officials said Thursday, as rescuers frantically searched for survivors.
Some 19 miners had been plucked to safety since Tuesday night’s accident and rescuers are communicating with some still buried, raising hopes for more survivors.
But with the clock ticking, the rescue effort at the remote site on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island was hampered by steep terrain and unstable soil conditions after the collapse triggered a landslide.
A survivor whose leg was amputated at the site Thursday later died of massive blood loss, bringing the death toll to seven.
“His condition was already bad and he had lost a lot of blood,” said local disaster agency official Abdul Muin Paputungan.
“He died after we managed to evacuate him from the scene.”
Medical personnel removed the man’s limb because it was pinned underneath a large rock, making it impossible to free him without emergency on-site surgery.
“We’re racing against time,” Paputungan said of the search for survivors.
“The rescue is ongoing but it’s risky… We’ve heard at least three people asking for help and we’re trying to pull them out and supply them with water and food so they can survive.”
Army and disaster agency personnel used ropes to navigate the steep, muddy area as survivors were carried away in makeshift stretchers to waiting vehicles.
Some have been treated for cuts and broken bones at a local hospital.
With heavy machinery on standby, rescuers so far have been forced to use spades and even their bare hands to clear away debris, fearing that a wrong move could make the situation worse.
“We’ve had to limit the number of rescuers because there’s been more cracks at the location… so we’re afraid if there are too many people it will make things more dangerous,” Paputungan said.
The accident happened when support beams at the unlicensed site collapsed, according to the disaster agency.
More than three dozen people may still be trapped at the mine in the Bolaang Mongondow region of North Sulawesi, where some five miners were killed in December after an illegal gold mine accident.
But it remained unclear how many people were still in the mine.
“The figures are not consistently based on survivors’ accounts,” District head Yasti Soepradjo said earlier.
“We’re still in the dark about the exact number.”
The mineral-rich Southeast Asian nation has scores of unlicensed mining sites and safety regulations are routinely flouted.
Ground conditions at the mine were unstable due to a large number of holes dug by the miners, officials have said.
In 2016, 11 miners died after a mudslide engulfed an illegal gold mine in Sumatra’s Jambi province.
A year earlier, 12 people were killed when a shaft collapsed after they tunnelled into a disused gold mine on Java island.