BONANZA, Nicaragua – The first 11 of 24 freelance gold miners trapped by a collapse in a mine in northern Nicaragua have been rescued and crews were working early today to free more, officials said.
The men walked out of the mine on their own as their relatives and fellow miners cheered late Friday night, more than 24 hours after a collapse at the El Comal gold and silver mine in the town of Bonanza left them cut off in a mine shaft.
Interior Vice Minister Carlos Najar said the miners were a bit dehydrated but in good health.
“They are coming out little by little, it’s a slow process but we want to make sure they can get out safely,” Najar told Channel 6 state television. He added that more of the miners are expected to be rescued overnight.
The miners were checked by paramedics and taken to a clinic in Bonanza, which is located about 260 miles northeast of Managua.
Earlier, authorities said 20 of the 24 miners had been located and had communicated with rescuers at the El Comal mine in northern Nicaragua. The 20 had told rescuers they did not know what happened to the other four miners.
Najar didn’t say how many of the 24 miners they expected to rescue.
Hundreds of relatives and fellow miners had gathered to pray outside the mine as rescuers lined up several ladders along a 200-foot long tunnel leading toward where the men were trapped. The mine cuts into the side of a mountain and then goes upward.
The gold and silver mine is operated by Colombia’s Hemco. The trapped miners are not employees of Hemco, but rather freelancers allowed to work in the company’s concession if they sell any gold they find to the firm, mining company spokesman Gregorio Downs told the Associated Press.
Downs said the company had warned miners about the danger of working in the El Comal area, especially after two miners died in a rain-caused landslide there last month.
“We live by extracting mineral from Hemco. They told us digging here was risky, but sometimes one is willing to risk it for a few more cents,” said Absalon Toledo, leader of the informal miners.
Authorities didn’t receive word of the landslide until late Thursday after the mine lost contact with the workers.