Seven killed in Suriname gold mine collapse

13:12 | 22/11/2010
Seven men were killed and two others were seriously injured when the sand walls of a gold mine collapsed in Suriname, police in the former Dutch colony said Sunday.

Police inspector Bertrand Riedewald said the accident occurred late Saturday when a mudslide eroded the open pit's 20-meter (65-foot) walls and buried the illegal miners, who were mainly from the country's Maroon indigenous community.

"Three miners were able to escape during the collapsing, while two survivors got severely injured and where taken for medical treatment to the hospital," Riedewald said.

The mine at Money Hill, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of the capital Paramaribo, belongs to the Surgold concession, a joint venture between US-based multinationals Alcoa and Newmont.

Money Hill is popular among small-scale wildcat miners, and Surgold has often urged them to halt their activities in the concession area and warned of the dangers of the illicit mining.

In a statement this Sunday, Surgold said that the accident took place in an illegal artisanal mining area located within Surgold’s Merian Right of Exploration.

"We have learned of a landslide that took place last night. Apparently artisanal miners (also known as porknockers) not associated with our exploration activities, had been working at the foot of a 10-meter wall in the area when the slide occurred," said Esteban Crespo, Surgold representative in Suriname, quoted in the statement.

In the text, the company says that "the porknockers had illegally occupied Surgold's right of exploration since late 2009" and "have been active in the area using unregulated, unsafe and illegal mining techniques."

"The situation became so serious that Surgold stopped all exploration activities in the area several months ago due to concerns over safety and security, which was formally notified to the proper authorities," it added.

The seven bodies were recovered early Sunday, after the removal of dirt and debris.

"I was carrying the fuel when I felt the sand sliding away and fell face-down 20 meters into the pit," said a 23-year-old identified only as Roger, and who was working for the excavator operator.

Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Slijngaard, head of the National Coordinating Center for Disaster Management, told reporters that miners were likely using a water hose to blast away soil when the collapse began.

Suriname's economy is based mainly on mining.


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