JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — An illegal gold mine on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island collapsed on nearly two dozen people who were working inside, killing six and leaving one worker missing, officials said Thursday.
Survivors estimated 23 people were trapped in the rubble when the mine in Central Sulawesi province’s Parigi Moutong district collapsed late Wednesday due to unstable soil, said Andrias Hendrik Johannes, who heads the local search and rescue agency.
Rescuers were able to pull 16 people from the debris and recover the bodies of four women and two men during a grueling search effort, he said.
Police, emergency personnel, soldiers and volunteers were trying to locate the remaining worker. Their efforts were hampered by the mine’s remote location and the unstable soil that risked further slides.
A video showed rescuers struggling to bring out a body bag from an inundated ravine.
Illegal or informal mining operations are commonplace in Indonesia, providing a tenuous livelihood to those who labor in conditions with a high risk of injury or death.
Landslides, flooding and collapses of tunnels are just some of the hazards in such mining. Much of the processing of gold ore involves the use of highly toxic mercury and cyanide by workers using little or no protection.
Indonesia accounts for about 3% of world gold production. Most of that comes from the Grasberg mine in Papua province, said to have $40 billion in reserves and up to 20,000 workers.
But small, often unauthorized mining is on the rise 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 has risen to over 40 million from 30 million in 2014 and 6 million in 1993.