An emergency medical response vehicle leaves the premises of Gloria coal mine near Middelburg in Mpumalanga on Monday. PHOTO:ANA

MIDDELBURG - Rescue and body retrieval operations were still underway on Monday afternoon at Gloria coal mine near Middelburg in Mpumalanga. 

Rescue workers were still trying to reach the underground area where people and bodies of people suspected to be cable thieves were, business rescue practitioners’ representative Mike Elliot said.

“It’s a rescue and recovery mission and everything is going well,” said Elliot.

“We are building up ventilation walls. We are trying to get enough fresh air so that we can get to the bodies. A team of rescue workers who reported for duty last [Sunday] night is now out, and a fresh team got inside. We had some challenges last night but they were all sorted out.”

About 20 people were trapped underground at the mine two weeks ago following an explosion that occurred while they were allegedly stealing copper cables. 

The bodies of five men were retrieved two weeks ago while a sixth man was brought to the surface alive and taken to the hospital where he was later discharged. 

On Thursday, rescue workers found seven more bodies underground but did not retrieve them because the methane gas levels had increased and prompted the second temporary suspension of rescue and retrieval operations, which resumed on Monday, said Elliot.

The situation was unusually quiet outside Gloria coal mine on Monday afternoon with no sign of family members of the deceased or people who are thought to be still trapped underground. 

Disgruntled Gloria coal mine workers, who have been frequenting the mine in the past two weeks demanding to be paid their outstanding salaries, were also not present. 

Emergency medical service vehicles and bakkies loaded with different types of equipment and machines were seen moving in and out of the mine’s premises on Monday. A number of police officers were also visible at the entrance of the mine.

African News Agency (ANA)