Families of eight miners stranded for 24 days in Burkina Faso hold their breath

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The entrance to the Perkoa zinc mine in the midwest of Burkina Faso.

Every minute counts. For three weeks, the pumping machines have been working day and night at the zinc mine in Perkoa, in midwest Burkina Faso, to trap six Burkinabés, who have flooded underground galleries and left eight miners stranded. one Tanzania and one Zambia – on 16 April. “We haven’t had any news since then, but we still hope to find them alive.”The brother of one of the coups workers and the representative of the victims’ parents, Antoine Bama, were contacted by phone.

Also read: Race against the clock to rescue eight miners trapped underground in Burkina Faso

As of now, rescuers are placing their last hope in one of the mine’s shelters. Located about 580 meters deep, this small waterproof bunker was dug to protect workers in case of fire, rockfall or flood. On Monday, techs reached the level of 580, which is the reduced one. “They are very close, there have been minor machine malfunctions that have slowed the work, but we hope to reach the refuge in the next few hours.”Antoine Bama reports at the exit of the daily information point organized by the people in charge of the mine on Tuesday, May 10.

The tension for families is unbearable. “The uncertainty is terrible, we barely sleep now, not knowing in which state we will find them”Mr Bama says he has been at the scene since the disappearance of his younger brother Charles, a 45-year-old driver. The first bunker room with more on the surface had no one been found, and the third and last at the bottom of the mine could only house six people, leaving little chance of survival for the casualties.

More radio communications

“At the time of the flood, most of the miners were at level 580, so we hope the group had time to take shelter in the second closest room”explains Moussa Palenfo, director of Nantou Mining, the Burkinabé subsidiary of Canadian operator Trevali Mining.

Rescuers have pumped a total of 34 million liters of water so far. It’s impossible to know whether the bunker will withstand flooding, and in particular whether eight miners will be inside. The disaster cut off the electrical system and since then all radio communications inside the farm have been suspended.

Also read: 20 people were killed in an attack on a gold mine in Burkina Faso.

According to Mr Palenfo, however, the air duct of the second refuge room was undamaged. “Theoretically, this room could accommodate 26 people for 72 hours, but research is ongoing to determine the amount of water and food stocks it contains.”indicates the latter.

Since the tragedy, the Burkinabés have lived to the rhythm of the latest news relayed by the crisis unit relocated to the high commissioner of Réo, a few kilometers from Perkoa. On social networks, prayer messages, calls ” don’t forget [les mineurs] » and ask the authorities “do everything possible” duplicate to save them. Many also criticize “slowness” aid operations. “In the beginning things were not moving forward, we had to raise our voices and hold a sit-in for the government to intervene and help us put pressure on those responsible.”condemns Antoine Bama.

Narrowness of main shaft

The mining company had promised the families that they would reach the second shelter on May 5 without complying with this deadline. “We had to rehabilitate the entire flooded landing pad before installing the first pumps. We had to order more efficient electrical machines from Ghana and South Africa, some with motors, faulty.”Answers, the manager of Nantou Mining. The depth of the mine – 710 meters – and the narrowness of the main shaft, which connects to the galleries on each floor every 30 meters, slowed the progress of the work.

Gray areas also persist around the causes of flooding of the only zinc deposit in the country, which has been exploited for some time since 2013. “twelve years of life”, according to the Burkinabe mines ministry. On April 16, during this drought period in Burkina Faso, exceptionally heavy rains broke two barriers and flooded the galleries. Sixteen of the twenty-four people on the team were urgently evacuated. “We still don’t know why the other eight are stuck”says Moussa Palenfo.

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Albert Ouédraogo, Prime Minister of Burkinabé, visiting the site, 1private May, accompanied by a government delegation, “Certain number of actions taken a few days before the event, especially open pit mine blasting which weakened the gallery and supported this flooding”.

The Prime Minister announced that an investigation has been opened. “to fulfill all responsibilities” and “Conservative measures” He was detained to prevent those responsible for the mine from leaving the country without waiting for the results of the investigations. Families of Burkinabe miners also filed complaints « for “attempted murder” against X, “Endanger the lives of others” and “no help to the person in distress” “.