MANAGUA – Between eight and 16 people became trapped underground in a new artisanal mine collapse on Friday in Nicaragua, where more than a score of small-scale miners have died or gone missing in just over a month.
The accident occurred in the early morning hours at Las Brisas mine in Rancho Grande, a municipality located in the west-central department of Matagalpa, just over 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Managua.
“Between eight and 16 people were trapped inside. I hope they’re not dead, but we think they died because the kids who managed to escape saw when the earth fell on those poor people,” Freddy Martinez, a farm laborer who was nearby when the mine collapsed, told EFE.
The victims were deep inside the hillside mine, around 100 meters (330 feet) from the entrance, when the accident occurred.
Local farm workers were angry at local authorities for their apparent refusal to help local residents with their rescue effort, according to Martinez. The police later sealed off the area and prevented people from taking photos.
“Rancho Grande’s mayor, Maria Isabel Gonzalez, said there was no need to alarm people, and the police didn’t want to let me take a video. Luckily, I ran and they didn’t take my phone,” said Martinez, who shared images on social media.
The farm worker said he himself had entered the mine hours before the collapse and noticed that pillars were missing. He added that he warned the miners of the danger, “but they ignored me and went in.”
Martinez said that dangerous activity will continue due to the economic incentive, noting that the amount each artisanal miner can earn in one day – 5,000 cordobas ($143.67) – is equivalent to what laborers in the farm sector, the main source of employment in that region, make in a month.
Some people “even hang hammocks and live there so they can work for several days in a row, but with no protection. They risk their lives to support their family,” he said.
The accident at Las Brisas is the fourth fatal artisanal mine collapse in Nicaragua in the past six weeks.
At least two small-scale miners died in a cave-in that occurred in the northeastern town of Bonanza on Nov. 3, the same day that Hurricane Eta made landfall in Nicaragua. The government, however, denied there was any connection between the deaths and that Category 4 storm.
On Dec. 4, 19 people were buried when an unregulated mine collapsed in southern Nicaragua, near the border with Costa Rica; one person survived and two were found dead.
The fate of the other 16 was never determined because the government suspended the search effort after 17 hours, prompting harsh criticism from those who said it was possible they were still alive.
On Dec. 10, a 19-year-old worker died after he became trapped under a boulder that became dislodged inside an artisanal mine, also in Bonanza.