At least 50 people are feared dead after a gold mine collapsed in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), local authorities have said.
The accident in the makeshift mine occurred on Friday about 3pm local time (13:00 GMT) following heavy rains in the town of Kamituga in South Kivu province.
Provincial governor Theo Ngwabije Kasi deplored “the tragic deaths of 50 people, most of them young”.
Kamituga Mayor Alexandre Bundya blamed “soil subsidence caused by torrential rain” for the accident and said “the exact number of victims” was not yet known. He declared a two-day mourning period and urged local residents to help extract the bodies from the ground.
“Several miners were in the shaft which was covered and no one could get out,” said Emiliane Itongwa, president of the Initiative of Support and Social Supervision of Women, a local mining NGO.
Photos and videos on social media showed hundreds of people at the site, some of whom could be heard wailing on a hillside around the mine-shaft entrance.
“Kamituga is in mourning,” wrote Dieudonne Bazika, who shot and posted a video on his Twitter account.
🇨🇩 😭 La ville de Kamituga dans un grand deuil; Au moins 60 morts dans un puits artisanal d'or au D3 Mobale en territoire de Mwenga au Sud-Kivu.
😭 Perte énorme ds des familles. @Presidence_RDC @TheoKASI @PrimatureRDC @mines_des @CTCPM_MINES_RDC @AKamituga @MaishaRdc @GouvSudkivu pic.twitter.com/uoO9XstBEM
— Dieudonné Bazika (@BazikaDieudonne) September 11, 2020
Jean Nondo, a local resident who was at the scene, said that “according to witnesses, there are more than 50 dead. There is only one survivor.”
He said a river close to the mine had flooded after torrential rain. “Water went into the three tunnels. When people tried to get out, there was no way as the water was flowing strongly, with high pressure,” Nondo told AFP news agency.
The mine was not located on the Kamituga gold concession owned by the Canadian miner Banro Corporation, the company’s chief executive said.
Thousands of informal miners operate in and around mines in DRC, which produces more than half of the world’s cobalt, a key component in electric car batteries.
Mining accidents are common, with dozens of deaths every year in mines where often ill-equipped diggers burrow deep underground in search for ore.
Last year, a landslide at a disused gold mine killed 16 people in October, while 43 people died in another landslide at a copper and cobalt mine in June.