A policeman directs other miners away from the pit head during a mine search and rescue operation at Cricket Mine. PIcture: Jekesai NJIKIZANA/AFP

Harare - Eight miners who had been trapped at Cricket 3 Mines and Jongwe Mining Co-operative in Battlefields near Kwekwe, about 210km southwest of Harare in Zimbabwe, have been rescued amid fears that dozens of other miners are still trapped after the mine flooded on Tuesday.

The rescued miners were taken to Kadoma General Hospital where they are receiving treatment. 

The interlinked shafts and tunnels at the two mines folded after the collapse of a dam wall due to excessive rain in the area. Rescue operations saw water being drained from seven shafts for two days, with joint efforts by various mining companies, including Zimplats, Golden Valley, RioZim, Mrasta, and small-scale miners.

Civil protection unit chairwoman Cecilia Chitiyo confirmed that eight people had been rescued so far, saying there were more people trapped in the mine.

“We are hearing there could be more people who are still trapped underground. So far, we have rescued eight people and the rescue operations will continue. What we cannot ascertain, however, is how many people are still down there and how many are alive,” she said.

Chitiyo appealed for assistance so that the rescue mission could proceed smoothly. “We are appealing for assistance from mining companies and individuals in the form of mining equipment that can assist in the efforts. We also appeal for assistance in cash or kind, bearing in mind that we have a team of people who are conducting the rescue operations,” she said.

Some of the rescued miners told horrendous stories of how they survived the catastrophe. Simon Moyo, from Shurugwi, said water levels started rising from nowhere but they could not escape as all routes had been flooded.

“I never expected to get out of there alive. I was standing in water which reached my neck for the past four or so days. For all those days I never slept or ate anything. I was only relieved when I saw the water levels dropping,” he said.

But as rescue operations continue, hopes of finding any more miners alive have faded. By Saturday evening body bags had been lined up near the mining pits, a sign that rescuers were now expecting to bring out bodies.

The Zimbabwean government has declared the incident a national disaster, with each bereaved family promised US1000 funeral assistance. Government has also extended a begging bowl amid indications that it requires at least US200,000 to pump out the water, feed bereaved families and teams on the ground, and transportation and burial of the victims in their respective districts.

Mines and mining development deputy minister Polite Kambamura said earlier government was going to pursue safe mining campaigns in all areas where there were small-scale miners after preliminary assessments indicated that the miners were operating outside the provisions of the law.

“These miners were operating along a water channel  which is against the Mines and Minerals Act. They tried to block the water channel 300 metres away from where the shafts are, but there was a flood leading to their submersion.” Mining operations, according to the Act, should be at least 200 metres away from a water channel.

African News Agency/ANA