About 40 people remain trapped in Liberian gold mine

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Liberia is rich in mineral deposits - and full of illicit mines - Photo Getty Images
Liberia is rich in mineral deposits – and full of illicit mines – Photo Getty Images

More than 60 miners, some armed, have been arrested at an illegal gold mine in north-eastern Liberia where around 40 people remain trapped in a collapsed pit.

They “resisted” a team sent to restore order at the site, said Archievego Doe of the disaster management agency.

Another official described the situation as “lawless”.

Rescuers have so far retrieved seven bodies after the walls of the pit caved in on 10 February.

Liberian authorities deployed a team comprising the army, police, immigration and drug enforcement agency officials to the gold field in Nimba county, a major centre for illicit mining.

The immigration services were involved in the operation because some of the illegal miners are foreigners, Mr Doe said.

Thousands of people are believed to work in the mine, near the town of Tapeta

Aubrey Wehye, the district superintendent of the Tapeta region, said the situation was “lawless”, adding that some of the illegal miners were in possession of “Guinean-made shotguns that they fire all night”.

Initially rescuers had been fearful of using heavy equipment because it could hurt or unknowingly kill those trapped alive underneath.

There were signs, though, that the rescue effort was turning into a recovery one. The health ministry was conducting “disease surveillance for possible outbreaks of air-borne or water-borne diseases.” Other residents reported a strong stench from the area where the miners have been trapped.

About 10 people are believed to have survived the soil collapse at the mine, and were treated for broken bones, cuts and dehydration, medical officials have said.

Amid the weekend rescue effort authorities also deployed police and military to the area, where they arrested 65 illegal gold miners who had resisted the presence of authorities.

Regional authorities had previously tried to shut down the gold mine because of the dangers it posed. But in a region with widespread poverty, many still risk death to take part in illegal mining.