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74 of 3,000 rescued from S. Africa mine
Miners work underground at the Harmony Goldmine, near Carletonville, South Africa, in this Wednesday Oct. 27, 2004 file photo. Some 3,000 miners were trapped underground when a water pipe burst and probably caused a shaft to collapse Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007, in Harmony Gold's Elandsrand Mine near Johannesburg, South Africa's economic capital and gold-mining center. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

74 of 3,000 rescued from S. Africa mine

October 2, 2007
Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Rescue workers early Thursday evacuated the first 74 of about 3,000 miners trapped more than a mile underground by an accident. None of the miners were injured and the evacuation was expected to take about 10 hours.

None of the miners still trapped more than a mile underground at the Harmony Gold Elandsrand Mine were in any immediate danger, company and union officials said.

Peter Bailey, the health and safety chairman for the National Mineworkers Union, said the first 74 miners to be evacuated reached the surface shortly after 1 a.m.

"They are all doing well," said Bailey.

Deon Boqwana, the regional chairman for the union, said there was ventilation for those still below ground and that they were in contact with the trapped miners over telephone landlines in the mine.

"They are still in good condition but are angry, hungry, frustrated and want to get out of there," said Boqwana.

He said the miners were trapped slightly more than a mile below ground in the mine, which, at some points, is about a mile and a half deep.

The company said a collapsing column of water pipes fell in the shaft of the elevator that brings miners to the surface, causing extensive damage to the steel framework and to the electrical feeder cables.

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 would evacuate the miners over the next day using a smaller cage in another shaft.

Boqwana, the union official, said the miners have neither food nor water. He said the smaller cage that will be used to bring the miners to the surface can hold about 75 miners at a time. He said it normally takes three minutes to reach the surface but it would be slower now because rescue workers have to be careful. He predicted once the cage is ready to begin, the evacuation will take about 10 hours.

Briggs told Dow Jones that the workers - consisting of the mine's entire morning shift - became trapped after damage to a shaft made it unsafe.

Harmony Gold spokeswoman Amelia Soares told The South African Press Association that some of the miners were making their way to shafts in an adjacent AngloAshanti mine.

"Some of these mineworkers started duty on Tuesday evening it is now Wednesday night and they are still underground," said Bailey.

He said they were at a crowded assembly point, hungry, thirsty "and very afraid."

The spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, Lesiba Seshoka, said 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 a burst water pipe probably caused soil in the underground shaft to collapse. Gold mine shafts in South Africa are among the deepest in the world - more than a mile, in some cases.

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.

Last year, 199 mineworkers died in accidents, mostly rock falls, the government Mine Health and Safety Council reported in September.

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