JAKARTA • Indonesian rescuers scrambled yesterday to find dozens of people buried in the collapse of an illegal gold mine that killed at least three people.
The disaster agency said the effort to save survivors at the remote site on Sulawesi island was hampered by steep terrain and unstable soil conditions after the collapse triggered a landslide on Tuesday evening. Three people have been found dead, while 14 others were pulled from the rubble alive, according to officials.
"Dozens of people were mining for gold at this location when suddenly beams and supporting boards broke due to unstable soil conditions," said disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
More than three dozen people might still be trapped at the site in the Bolaang Mongondow region of North Sulawesi, where some five miners were killed in December after an illegal gold mine accident.
The mineral-rich South-east Asian nation has scores of unlicensed mining sites, and safety regulations are routinely flouted.
Some of the still-buried miners were responding to rescuers' calls but it was not clear how many were still alive.
Ground conditions at the mine were unstable due to the large number of holes dug by the miners, officials said. "We still have hope. When we called them they still responded from down there, asking for help," local disaster agency official Abdul Muin Paputungan said.
"We can't use heavy machinery because the location is very steep... it could endanger the victims."
Rescuers were trying to get water to the buried miners but feared a wrong move could worsen the situation. "There are a lot of challenges because the rocks that fell are in a very dangerous position," Mr Paputungan said.
Local hospital chief Wahdiana Mantang said nine patients had been released and several others were being treated for injuries.
"They're suffering from lacerations, gashes, and some have broken bones," she added.
Environmentalists have called on local officials to enforce regulations and safety measures.
"We predicted this was going to happen," said Mr Theo Runtuwene, a local director for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment.
"The area is mountainous and (miners) dug holes there, which is extremely risky... There are dozens of sites in North Sulawesi where the ground is very unstable, especially during the rainy season."
Indonesia has a patchy record on mining safety, particularly for small-scale unlicensed mines.
Eleven miners died in 2016 after a mudslide engulfed an illegal gold mine in Sumatra's Jambi province.
Mr Agung Pribadi, a spokesman for Indonesia's Mining Ministry, said three mining inspectors had been sent to assist in the rescue and that illegal mines had recently been shut in the area. "Maybe now they have started again," he said.
Mr Gatot Sugiharto, who heads the Citizens Mining Association, said there are about 200 unlicensed mines in Indonesia, with 10 in that area of Sulawesi alone.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS