At least 27 dead in Peru gold mine fire
At least 27 workers were killed in a fire at a remote gold mine in southern Peru, authorities said Sunday, as grief-stricken relatives gathered near the site awaiting news of their loved ones.
The blaze was sparked by a short circuit and quickly engulfed one of the tunnels, leading to one of the worst mining tragedies in the South American country's recent history.
"Where are you darling, where are you?" cried Marcelina Aguirre Quispe, whose husband was among the victims.
"We know there was a short circuit and from that an explosion. We are very shocked by everything that happened," said Francisco Idme Mamani, whose 51-year-old brother Frederico also perished.
Police and the public prosecutor's office confirmed that the fire at the La Esperanza 1 mine in the Arequipa region, was caused by a short circuit.
Public prosecutor Giovanni Matos told Channel N television that there were "27 dead inside the mine."
Local media said earlier that the blaze started Saturday after an explosion at the mine in the remote Condesuyos province, a 10-hour drive from the city of Arequipa, the regional capital.
The explosion ignited the wooden supports inside the mine in the town of Yanaquihua.
The victims were 100 meters below ground, local media said.
News of the fire was only published Sunday once police had gathered details of those who died.
Rescue teams were trying to secure the mine before removing the victims' bodies.
"We have to make the place where the dead are safe so we can enter it and recover the bodies," said Matos.
There have been no reports of survivors, nor confirmation about how many people were in the mine at the time of the fire.
Yanaquihua mayor James Casquino told the Andina news agency that most of the miners would have died of asphyxiation and burns.
As of late Sunday, 12 bodies had been recovered before rescue teams suspended their operations at nightfall, police said in a statement.
- Mining accidents -
"The interior and defense ministries have been working since this tragedy occurred on the recovery and transport of the bodies," said the presidency in a tweet.
Family members headed to the nearest police station for information on their relatives.
Mining is one of the engines of the Peruvian economy, the largest gold and copper producer in Latin America, accounting for more than eight percent of GDP.
The mine, operated by Minera Yanaquihua, is a legal enterprise but there are many illegal mines in the region.
The company has been operating mines in Peru for 23 years.
Last year, 39 people died in mining-related incidents, according to the mining and energy ministry.
In 2020, four workers died after becoming trapped when a mine in Arequipa collapsed.
Peru is the world's second-largest producer of silver, copper and zinc, according to official sources.
It is also Latin America's top producer of zinc, tin, lead and molybdenum.