10 March 2005

South Africa quake goldminers freed

One man was killed and four injured when an earthquake trapped a group of goldminers in an underground shaft south-west of Johannesburg.

Rescuers battled for 12 hours to free the men, trapped at a depth of 2.4km (1.5 miles) beneath the surface.

The earthquake, measuring five on the Richter scale, struck on Wednesday morning, trapping 40 men underground.

By late Wednesday, all but one of the goldminers had been traced and were being treated by medics in the shaft.

"One employee is still unaccounted for. Regrettably one is a fatality, the other 14 we have. Four of these are injured," a spokesman for mining firm DRDGold told the BBC News website.

James Duncan said that a team of more than 100 people, including many miners who had volunteered as well as specialised medics, were taking part in the rescue operation.

Medics were working underground to treat the men before bringing them to the surface, he said.

Four of the group of trapped men were injured during the quake, which struck near the town of Stilfontein, 155km (95 miles) south-west of Johannesburg.

"They will be short of water - it will be hot, humid and extremely uncomfortable down there. Re-hydration is a major focus of the paramedics," Mr Duncan said.

The company had about 3,158 miners in the area affected by the quake most of whom have already been brought to the surface.

Some 227 remaining men, DRDGold said, are in the process of being evacuated.

Large earthquakes are not common in South Africa and one seismologist said it could have been triggered by underground mining operations.

"This is most probably a mining-induced event... it is a gold mining area," said Council for Geoscience seismologist Eldridge Kgaswane.

He said that mine work triggered small earthquakes on an almost daily basis.

A block of flats for elderly people in the town of Klerksdorp, near the epicentre, had to be evacuated after the earthquake left it "unfit for human habitation", the emergency services said.

Pupils at two schools in the town were also sent home after walls were damaged.

Police spokesman Louis Jacobs said about 40 people had been slightly injured and many shop windows broken in the two towns.


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