Kinyenye Furaha passed out from shock when he realised a mine collapse in eastern Congo had buried more than 50 fellow miners including his brother, he said on Sunday, as the hunt continued for bodies two days after the disaster.
Miners searching the site near the town of Kamituga in Democratic Republic of Congo have so far recovered 18 bodies, after heavy rains on Friday caused the artisanal gold mine to cave in, burying those working below ground.
Before the rain started, Furaha had left the site to remove some large rocks. Soon after, a child ran up to say water was rising in the mine, Furaha told Reuters.
“We went back there and found only the pit filled with water. And that’s when I lost consciousness,” he said.
"When people wanted to get out, there was no way to because the water was pouring in at a great pressure," said a local resident at the scene, Jean Nondo.
Dozens of people die each year in accidents in largely unregulated artisanal mines in Congo, where often ill-equipped diggers borrow deep underground in search of ore.
This time, miners were caught out because the wet season is yet to get fully underway, said Kamituga Mayor Alexandre Bundia.
“The main problem is that people did not heed the rain,” he said outside his office in the mining town in Congo’s mountainous and mineral-rich South Kivu province.
Scores of men in rubber boots gathered again on Sunday at the mine site on a muddy hillside. A rescue team passed sacks of earth out of the pit in the search for the buried miners, who are all presumed dead.
Recovery efforts continue on Monday morning, local official Kimbulungu Kyalondawa said.
Back in Kamituga, women gathered to mourn their lost relatives. Sitting close together on the floor, they stared into the distance without speaking, while one held a sleeping baby to her chest.
The mine was on a concession held by Kamituga mining, a subsidiary of Canadian gold mining company Banro, Raoul Kitungano, of the Congolese campaign group Justice Pour Tous (Justice for All), told AFP.
Banro announced in September 2019 it was suspending its operations there.
The mine was thus left to the artisanal miners, who earn their living by selling the minerals they manage to dig up themselves to local traders, who sell it on to large foreign companies.
Accidents in DR Congo's makeshift mines are common and often deadly.
In June 2019, at least 39 men died when a copper mine in Kolwezi, in the southeastern Katanga region, partially collapsed.
Because many such mines are in remote areas, however, the accidents are under-reported. DR Congo has huge reserves of gold, cobalt, copper, and coltan.
It is the world's largest producer of cobalt, crucial for making the batteries used in mobile phones and electric vehicles.
DR Congo's mineral-rich but volatile east faces regular attacks from a plethora of militias and rebel groups that operate freely in the region.
- Reuters and AFP.