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Two dozen dead in Venezuela illegal mine collapse

Relatives mourn a loved one who died when an illegal gold mine collapsed in the jungles of southern Venezuela
Relatives mourn a loved one who died when an illegal gold mine collapsed in the jungles of southern Venezuela - Copyright SERGE SVETNOY/AFP/File Handout
Relatives mourn a loved one who died when an illegal gold mine collapsed in the jungles of southern Venezuela - Copyright SERGE SVETNOY/AFP/File Handout

About two dozen people died when an illegal gold mine collapsed in the jungles of southern Venezuela, officials said Wednesday as the search continued for survivors.

The incident happened Tuesday at the “Bulla loca” mine in the state of Bolivar, a seven-hour boat ride from the nearest town, La Paragua, where family members waited anxiously for news.

Yorgi Arciniega, mayor of the Angostura municipality, told AFP late Wednesday that about 23 bodies had been recovered, including 15 that had arrived by boat in La Paragua and about another eight on their way.

Deputy Minister of civil protection Carlos Perez Ampueda published a video of the incident on X, and referred to “a massive” toll, though providing no numbers. Some 200 people were thought to have been working in the mine, according to officials.

The video showed dozens of people working in the shallow waters of an open pit mine when a wall of earth slowly collapses upon them. Some managed to flee while others were engulfed.

Mayor Arciniega, who had earlier spoken of 15 people injured, said four had been brought by boat to La Paragua by Wednesday afternoon to receive treatment.

The Bolivar state’s secretary of citizen security, Edgar Colina Reyes, said the injured were being transported to a hospital in the regional capital Ciudad Bolivar, four hours from La Paragua, which lies 750 kilometers (460 miles) southeast of the capital Caracas.

Desolate relatives waited on the shores for news of their breadwinners.

“My brother, my brother, my brother,” cried one as he saw a body being taken off a boat.

“We ask that they support us with helicopters to remove the injured,” a woman waiting for news on her brother-in-law — a father of three — told AFP.

– ‘Bound to happen’ –

Reyes said the military, firefighters and other organizations were “moving to the area by air” to evaluate the situation.

Rescue teams were also being flown in from Caracas to aid in the search.

“We are evaluating the damage and doing a rescue analysis,” added Ampueda.

In December last year, at least 12 people were killed when a mine in the Indigenous community of Ikabaru, in the same region, collapsed.

The Bolivar region is rich in gold, diamonds, iron, bauxite, quartz and coltan. Aside from state mines, there is also a booming industry of illegal extraction.

“This was bound to happen,” resident Robinson Basanta told AFP of the unsafe working conditions of the miners, most of whom live in extreme poverty.

“This mine has yielded a lot of gold… People go there out of necessity, to make ends meet,” he said.

Activists denounce “ecocide” in the area and the exploitation of children who work long hours without protection. 

In the past year, the Venezuelan Armed Forces have evicted some 14,000 illegal miners from the Yapacana National Park in the neighboring state of Amazonas.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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