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22 Trapped Miners Freed in Nicaragua As Rescue Efforts Continue

August 30, 2014

 

On Saturday, rescuers freed 22 of at least 26 miners who were trapped in a gold mine by a mudslide in Nicaragua on Thursday. The freed miners were able to walk out of the mine on their own, despite being trapped in the mine for more than 24 hours. Efforts to reach at least 4 miners still missing continued Saturday.

Heavy rain in recent days likely triggered a landslide which poured into the mouth of the mine shaft.

Marvin Urbina, one of the rescued miners, said that he had seen an "avalanche of mud and rock" coming right toward him on Thursday morning at the El Comal gold and silver mine in Bonanza, Nicaragua. Urbina and a group of other miners all pressed themselves against the walls of the mine shaft to avoid being crushed by the torrent of debris.

(MORE: A Disaster No One Is Talking About)

But Urbina said at least four miners couldn't get out of the way of the mudslide in time, and were swept away and crushed by the debris flow. Rescuers previously announced that they had located at least 20 of the miners using teams of dogs Friday night.

Bonanza Mayor Alexander Alvarado, a former miner who participated in the rescue efforts, said it took about 100 men working around the clock to reach those trapped and even then, it took about another two hours to bring the first miner out to safety.

Antonio Diaz said the miners tried to cheer each other up inside the dark, cold shaft, attacking the slide with their picks and shovels by the light of helmet lamps. But after 24 hours, they began feeling hungry and some started losing hope.

"The sadness of feeling yourself trapped in a hole is inmense but I never lost hope," said the 32-year-old miner from a hospital bed in the town of Bonanza, near the El Comal gold and silver mine. "I kept thinking I was too young to die and above all, I thought about my two daughters."

He said the miners finally cut a hole through the blockage and started shouting, but at first there was no answer.

"Hours later, someone heard us, and when he answered us we felt life returning to our bodies," Diaz said. "God had answered our pleas to keep living."

The rescued miners were checked by paramedics and taken to a hospital in Bonanza, about 260 miles (420 kilometers) northeast of Managua. Interior Vice Minister Carlos Najar said they were a bit dehydrated but in good health.

Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua's first lady and government spokeswoman, said all 20 miners had been released from the hospital by Saturday afternoon.

Gregory Downs, superintendent of communications at Hemco mining company, said that workers were not employed by Nicaragua-based Hemco, which operates the mines in the area, but are freelancers who are allowed to work in Hemco's mines as long as they sell the gold they find to the company. The mine the workers are trapped in had previously been condemned and shut down because of instability and the company had warned miners not the enter the shaft. 

Bonanza is a remote mountainous town that is home to Nicaragua's biggest gold mines. Seasonal rains have plagued the area this year, and another landslide just two months ago killed two miners.

Nicaragua is considered one of the poorest countries in Latin America, according to the BBC.

"We live by extracting mineral from Hemco. They told us digging here was risky, but sometimes one is willing to risk it for a few more cents," said Absalon Toledo, director of the informal miners.

According to Hemco's website, the company has mined in the north Atlantic municipality since 1995 and employs 532 workers, who process 700 tons of material a day. The company, majority owned by Colombia's Mineros S.A., says it produces more than 2,500 pounds of gold a year and is Nicaragua's 12th largest exporter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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