BOLAANG MONGONDOW, Indonesia — Rescuers have passed water and food to some of the dozens of people trapped in a collapsed Indonesian gold mine, an official said Thursday, calling the grueling rescue effort in a remote inaccessible location a race against time.
The national disaster agency said 19 people had been rescued alive from the mine in North Sulawesi’s Bolaang Mongondow district as of Thursday evening. The death toll rose to seven and about three dozen miners remain trapped.
Local disaster official Abdul Muin Paputungan said a trapped miner’s leg was amputated to free him but the man died from blood loss while being carried out of the area.
“We were forced to amputate his leg to get him out because besides his lower leg being badly injured, the rock that squeezed it was impossible to shift or lift because we feared it could cause landslides and endanger rescuers and other victims,” Paputungan said.
“Sadly I have to say that he died of blood loss. Since the beginning his wounds were bleeding a lot,” he said.
Rescue workers used makeshift stretchers to haul victims through steep jungle terrain to safety.
“We hope those still trapped can survive with the food and drinking water that we delivered to them,” Paputungan said. “We have to race against time because their conditions are getting weaker and the oxygen inside we hope is still enough to let them survive.”
Wooden structures in the mine collapsed Tuesday evening due to shifting soil and the large number of mining holes. Informal mining operations are commonplace in Indonesia, providing a tenuous livelihood to thousands who labor in conditions with a high risk of serious injury or death.
The national disaster agency said at least 140 people from different agencies are involved in the rescue effort. It said there was an urgent need for body bags.
Photos showed a trapped miner’s arms and head jutting through a gap in rocks and rescuers toiling through the night in arduous conditions.
A woman who took her missing husband’s ID to an emergency command post cried out in anguish when an officer showed her a photo of a dead victim they believed was her husband, video showed.
“God forgive me,” she screamed.
Rescuers were using their bare hands and basic tools to search for the missing. They fashioned stretchers from tree branches, twine and other material. Photos showed rescuers working in mine tunnels.
Small artisanal and often unauthorized mining is rising in many parts of Asia and Africa. A study by the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development found the number of people engaged in such mining had risen to more than 40 million, up from 30 million in 2014 and 6 million in 1993.
Landslides, flooding and collapses of tunnels are just some of the hazards. Much of the processing of gold ore involves use of highly toxic mercury and cyanide by workers using little or no protection.