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South Africa Workers Emerge Slowly From Depths of Gold Mine


More than 3,000 gold miners trapped for hours in a South African gold mine, since Wednesday were mostly safe and back above ground by night fall Thursday. Peta Thornycroft has more for VOA News.

The accident happened at Harmony Gold's Elandsrand mine, near Cartetonville, 75 kilometers west of Johannesburg. Harmony officials said the accident was caused when a broken pipe severed power cables to an elevator early on Wednesday.

Some workers have been underground for 36 hours, since starting night shifts on Tuesday evening.

The more than 3,000 miners were being brought out through a small shaft normally used for mining equipment, and only 75 could be hauled at a time: no more than 300 in an hour. By midday Thursday, nearly 2,000 had been freed from the mine.

Harmony officials said they were not sure why the pipe fell as it was checked for safety on a weekly basis. But, the National Union of Mineworkers said lack of maintenance had caused the pipe to collapse and fall down the mine

Harmony Gold's general manager Stan Bierschenk said the men trapped under ground for more than 24 hours had remained calm.

There are nearly half a million mine workers in South Africa. According to statistics released last month by the government's Mine Health and Safety Council, last year there were 199 fatal accidents. This is the first accident at the Elandsrand mine.

Most of the men who emerged from the dark underground were dazed when they came into the light at the surface. Some celebrated by singing as they walked away from the shaft, and others said they had survived by "the grace of God."

Harmony's chairman, Patrice Motsepe said the company would review safety on the mine as a matter of urgency.

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