11 workers rescued out of 200 feared trapped in S.Africa mine

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JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Eleven workers have been rescued from an illegal gold mine in South Africa where around 200 were feared trapped Sunday, in the second accident in the country’s mining industry in as many weeks.

Rescuers used heavy duty equipment to try to clear a way out for the men stuck in the mine near Johannesburg, emergency services said.

“We have rescued 11 so far, none of them have visible injuries. But they are being assessed by medics,” Russel Meiring of the private emergency operators ER24 told AFP from the accident scene.

It is believed there are more than 200 miners trapped inside the mine, 30 of them at a shallow level.

The 30 “have told us that underneath them there’s 200 others,” Werner Vermaak, ER24 spokesman said earlier.

But he added that he could not independently confirm the figure of 200, while local municipal officials could only confirm 30 trapped.

Those rescued will be arrested for illegal mining and trespassing, police said.

“There’s still a number of them underground who are refusing to come out for fear of arrest,” police spokesman Mack Mngomezulu told AFP.

Municipal officials said the workers went down on Saturday into the mine, which has been dug illegally behind a cricket stadium in the Benoni district east of Johannesburg.

But police suspect some of them had been underground for up 12 days.

They were unable to come out after boulders fell and blocked their way, municipal rescuers said.

Boulders blocking the entrance to the shaft were removed using excavation equipment, clearing the way for rescuers to pull them out.

Food and water had earlier been lowered in by rope.

Police on patrol nearby discovered that the men were trapped in the mine when a passer-by said he had heard voices of people screaming for help from underground.

- Accidents commonplace -

Accidents are commonplace in South Africa’s mines, which are the deepest in the world.

At least eight miners were killed nearly two weeks ago after an earth tremor sparked an underground blaze at a Harmony Gold mine west of Johannesburg.

In July 2009, nine workers were killed in a rock fall in a platinum mine.

The same year, at least 82 people digging illegally in an disused gold mine shaft died when a fire broke out underground.

Minerals Minister Susan Shabangu last week lashed out at the poor safety record at regulated mining operations, where 14 deaths have been recorded in the first seven weeks of this year.

“One death is one too many,” she said on Thursday.

Throughout the 20th century, an estimated 69,000 people died in South Africa’s mining industry, according to a government-sponsored commission of inquiry.

But the number of fatal accidents has fallen sharply in recent years.

According to union figures, 112 people died in the mines in 2012.

South Africa’s gold output has steadily decreased over the past 40 years, sliding from top global producer to world number six.

It produced 167,235 kilogrammes of gold in 2012.

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