Death toll from Indonesia mine collapse rises to 16

Members of an Indonesian search and rescue team carry a survivor after a mine collapsed in Bolaang Mongondow, North Sulawesi, on Feb 28, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) - The death toll from last week's collapsed gold mine in northern Indonesia has risen to 16, as hopes to find survivors fade, an official said Wednesday (March 6).

Eighteen people have been pulled alive but injured from the illegal mine on Sulawesi island, but it is unclear how many were inside when the accident happened last Tuesday.

Painstaking rescue efforts have been hampered by steep terrain, unstable soil and dangerously narrow mining shafts.

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said "the evacuation team has been working 24 hours nonstop since Monday", when the site was deemed safe for search teams.

Two excavators have been clearing debris to find more bodies that could still be trapped inside the mine, he added.

For the first few days the team had to dig by hand to reach survivors because of the precarious conditions.

Rescuers also had to temporarily halt the search on Tuesday after rocks started to fall on them.

"At this point, the chances of finding any survivors are very slim," Abdul Muin Paputungan, from the local disaster mitigation agency, told AFP.

It is unclear how many miners were inside the shafts at the time of the accident as survivors had given varying tallies.

But rescue agencies said some miners reported it could be between 50 and 100.

Mr Paputungan said it was unlikely the team would be able to find all the miners.

The accident happened in the Bolaang Mongondow region of North Sulawesi, where five miners were killed in December after a similar illegal gold mine accident.

Mineral-rich Indonesia has scores of unlicensed mines - many with complete disregard for even the most basic of safety procedures.

In 2016, 11 miners died after a mudslide engulfed an illegal gold mine in Sumatra's Jambi province.

A year earlier, 12 people were killed when a shaft collapsed after they tunnelled into a disused gold mine on Java island.

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