Indonesia ends mine collapse search as death toll reaches 27

Indonesian rescue workers removing a body of a miner from a collapsed mine in Bolaang Mongondow, North Sulawesi on March 5, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia ended the search on Thursday (March 7) for victims of last week's mine collapse on the island of Sulawesi as the death toll climbed to 27, an official said, even as dozens are still feared missing.

Rescuers were forced to stop using excavators as conditions deteriorated and it was no longer possible to operate heavy machinery on such unstable ground.

"Our assessment found it is no longer possible to search for the victims because of the possible landslides, it is getting more and more dangerous for the rescuers," local disaster mitigation agency official Abdul Muin Paputungan told AFP.

"We decided to end the search for the mine collapse victims today."

The remains of 27 miners have been found following the disaster on Feb 26, while 18 were pulled out alive, Mr Paputungan said.

Rescuers have been hampered by steep terrain, unstable soil and dangerously narrow mining shafts.

It remains unclear how many miners were in the shafts at the time of the accident as survivors had given varying tallies. Rescue agencies said some miners reported it could be as high as 100.

"At least five bodies had been buried in a mass grave because no family had claimed them," Mr Paputungan said.

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 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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