LUSAKA, Zambia — A man has been pulled alive out of a Zambian mine nearly a week after dozens of informal miners were trapped under landslides caused by heavy rain, rescuers said Wednesday.
The 49-year-old survivor was rescued Tuesday night, according to a statement by Zambia’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit. He told rescuers he had been struggling for five days to find a way out of one of the collapsed tunnels at the open-pit copper mine near the city of Chingola, around 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the capital, Lusaka, the statement said.
A body was also recovered a few hours after the miner’s rescue but was yet to be identified, it added.
The man was taken to the hospital, rescuers said. They gave no details on his medical condition but said he was able to talk to officials from his hospital bed.
The body was the first to be retrieved following the disaster last week. More than 30 miners may still be trapped under the rubble and debris in three separate tunnels at the Seseli mine in Zambia’s Copperbelt province.
Zambian authorities have differed on exactly how many miners they believe were trapped when the tunnels they were digging to look for copper ore late Thursday collapsed on them. Government officials have said there were more than 30 miners trapped underground in the late-night tragedy, while the district commissioner of the area said there were at least 36.
Zambia mines minister Paul Kabuswe said 25 families in the region have come forward to report missing relatives.
Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema visited the mine on Tuesday and said he hoped that there were survivors. A rescuer said earlier in the week that they had heard multiple voices coming from under the rubble at one of the tunnel sites.
He said rescuers believed there would be survivors, although he said there were likely to be numerous deaths, too.
Rescue teams have been working constantly since last Friday to clear debris and pump water out of the pit where the tunnels are, but the efforts have been complicated by more rain, which left one of the sites completely flooded.
Police said over the weekend that all of the miners were presumed dead and had likely drowned in the tunnels. Their public statement was criticized by the government, which said it was too early to declare that.
Zambia is among the top 10 copper producers in the world and Chingola has large open-pit mines, some of them stretching for kilometers (miles). They are surrounded by huge waste piles of rocks and earth that have been dug out of the mines. The government said debris from one of the waste piles collapsed on the miners’ tunnels.
Illegal mining is common in the area, where artisanal miners go into mines without the knowledge of the owners to try and find and extract copper deposits. The miners involved in the collapse are suspected of being illegal miners.
On his visit, Hichilema said authorities were just focusing on saving lives.
“Here there is no illegal miner. Our job is to take our people out of the pit,” he said. “Our commitment is to do everything to save the lives that are down there.”
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