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Death toll rises to three in Ecuador mining accident

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The bodies of three Ecuadorean miners were recovered late on Saturday after an accident blocked the exit and left them trapped underground. A fourth miner remains unaccounted for.


AFP - Three of four workers trapped in a collapsed Ecuadoran gold mine were found dead on Saturday, while the status of the fourth man remained unknown, officials said.

The Ecuadoran miners were trapped early on Friday, shortly after Chile completed its historic, successful rescue of 33 miners who had been stuck underground in the San Jose mine for a record period of nearly 10 weeks.

The four became trapped after a collapse blocked their exit, leaving them stuck some 150 meters (492 feet) below ground in the Casa Negra mine.

“Three of the four trapped miners have been found dead,” said a civil defense source on condition of anonymity, adding that recovery workers had so far been able to extract the body of the chief miner, Walter Vera, 31.

Vera was trapped in the mine with his brother Angel who is a machine operator and two other miners, said officials with both the government and MINESADCO, the Ecuadoran company that operates the mine.

Earlier Saturday, rescuers punched holes large enough to pump fresh air to the part of the mine where the four men had been trapped, the government said.

But despite the progress, emergency workers reported no contact with the sole missing miner.

Mining officials said they were preparing to send down a probe equipped with a camera to see if the fourth miner was alive.

The men were trapped at the fifth level of the mine, and were believed to be in a gallery about 60 meters wide and two meters high.

Walter Vera had three children, including a 22 day-old infant. He has been a miner for the past decade, MINESADCO manager Fernando Velez told AFP.

His brother Angel, 29, joined the company two years ago and also has three children.

Velez identified the other two men as Pedro Mendoza, 28, and Paul Aguirre, 21. Both had worked at the site for less than a month and were employed as assistants. “They were temporary workers,” Velez said, adding that neither of them had children.

Some of the relatives of the trapped miners, including the wives of the Vera brothers, were waiting outside the mine for news of their loved ones.

The Casa Negra gold and silver mine, which employs around 100 people, is located near the town of Portovelo in El Oro province, some 405 kilometers (252 miles) from the capital Quito, near Ecuador’s border with Peru.

Portovelo, established in 1542 by the Spanish on the western slopes of the Andes, has a population of 14,000 and is one of the main mining centers in the province.

The US-based South American Development Company (SADCO) operated Casa Negra for half a century until it pulled out in 1950.


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