3,000 workers trapped in S. Africa mine
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - About 3,000 miners were trapped underground Wednesday when a water pipe burst and probably caused a shaft to collapse in a South African gold mine, union officials said.
An official with Harmony Gold's Elandsrand Mine nearsaid company would be able to evacuate the trapped workers over the next 24 hours.
Harmony's acting chief executive, Graham Briggs, said on MSNBC that officials have been in contact with the trapped workers and have been sending them food and water.
He said the company could evacuate the miners over the next day using a smaller cage in another shaft, but 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.
He said that the workers — consisting of the mine's entire morning shift — became trapped after damage to a shaft made it unsafe for workers to use.
The spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, Lesiba Seshoka, said the 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."
Officials said burst water pipe probably caused soil in the underground shaft to collapse. Gold mine shafts inare typically about 1 1/2 miles below ground, he said.
The union feared the men could be trapped without oxygen because of collapsed ground, or impeded by rock falls and mud slides by the burst ware pipe.
Seshoka charged the shafts had not been 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.
Mine managers and owners of the South African-owned business could not be reached for comment late Wednesday night.