Strong smell of gas still lingers as miners remain trapped at Gupta mine

07 February 2019 - 07:00 By Naledi Shange
Optimum Coal Mine, SA's third-largest opencast operation.
Optimum Coal Mine, SA's third-largest opencast operation.

Police on Wednesday said they had to turn away the families of people trapped in the Gupta-owned Gloria mine, which was rocked by an underground gas explosion.

"Family members and members of the community have been coming to us, begging us to let them go down and recover the people who are trapped there. But we have had to explain to them that it is too dangerous," said Brigadier Leonard Hlathi.

He explained that the smell of gasoline was still strong in the air around the mine, but different stakeholders were coming together to carry out a rescue operation.

He told TimesLIVE that the concerned relatives were still at the mine premises when he left on Wednesday evening. Rescue operations were expected to continue throughout the night.

Two people had been brought to the surface during the rescue operations. One had died while the other had survived the ordeal.

Asked about the condition of the survivor, Hlathi said he was weak when he was brought to the surface. The man had since been rushed to hospital.

It was not immediately clear how many people remained trapped underground, as earlier reports had indicated that more than 40 illegal miners had been underground at the time of the blast. About 20 were reportedly able to escape.

Hlathi had expressed concern over the incident, saying people infiltrating mines - not only for gold and copper but also for cables - was an ongoing problem.

BusinessLIVE had reported that this group was believed to have been attempting to steal cables from the underground operations at the Middleburg mine when the explosion occurred.

Meanwhile, the department of mineral resources could not immediately provide information on the latest at the mine, saying it was difficult to do so because this was an non-operational mine.  

Spokesperson Ayanda Shezi said the department's inspectors had been deployed to the scene.

It was not immediately clear how complex the rescue operation would be.