Thursday, 14 May 2015

Fifteen missing after inrush at Colombian gold mine.

Fifteen workers are missing following an inrush of gas and water at a gold mine at Riosucio in Caldas Province in the northwest of Colombia on Wednesday 13 May 2015. The incident reportedly happened during drilling which caused a collapse trapping the workers on two levels, at approximately ten and seventeen meters below the ground. Around fifty rescue workers are at the scene, however it is predicted that it will take about three days to pump sufficient water out of the mine for rescuers to enter safely, and it is feared that the miners are already dead.

Rescue workers at the scene of the May 2015 Riosucio mine accident. AFP.

Floods and inrushes typically occur when miners accidently break through into pockets of water and gas trapped within rocks. Since such buried waters are often under high pressure due to the weight of rocks above them, they tend to escape into the mine rapidly, and on occasion explosively, leading to a highly dangerous situation in which miners are often rapidly overwhelmed. Such inrushes can also occur when miners encounter flooded disused mineworkings, a danger in areas where mining has occurred for a long time but good records have not been kept.

The approximate location of the Riosucio mine. Google Maps.

The Riosucio area has a variety of gold mining operations, with the number rising all the time due to record high gold prices, many of them without any legal status, and health and safety procedures in the industry are often close to non-existent. Many mines are operated by criminal gangs with links to the drugs trade or even by rebel groups; the mountainous nature of the area (which is in the Andes) and Columbia's long history of political instability making the area hard to police. The mine affected by this weeks incident was reportedly operating legally, though there is a possibility that the flood was caused by an encounter with an illegal, undocumented and unrecorded mine.

Families of missing mine workers waiting for news following the 13 May flood. Reuters.

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