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Toxic Gas Blocks Rescuers From Trapped Miners in Peru

January 24, 1989

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Toxic gas and smoke blocked rescuers Tuesday from reaching at least 100 trapped miners, and the mayor said there is little hope they’re alive.

Officials said at least three miners were killed and 100 trapped Monday when a fire ate through wooden supports, collapsing tunnels in a rundown gold mine in southern Peru.

″The smoke has poisoned any air inside. They cannot be alive,″ Police Lt. Juan Robles said by telephone Tuesday.

He said heavy smoke, toxic gas and fallen earth stopped rescuers from entering Sol de Oro, a private mine near coastal Nazca, 230 miles south of Lima.

Hours after the cave-in, Robles said 150-300 miners were trapped. But he reduced that estimate Tuesday to about 100.

He said gas lamps set ablaze wooden tunnel supports on the second level of the five-level mine on Friday.

That fire was controlled, Robles said, but it flared again Saturday and heavy smoke overwhelmed miners working inside.

Bodies of three men were recovered at the mouth of the mine on Monday. ″Two of them show signs of having died from poison gases,″ Robles said.

The other miners were believed to be on the second, third and fourth levels of the mine, which is halfway up a 3,300-foot mountain, he said.

″I have asked for 100 body bags,″ Nazca Mayor Enrique Li told Radio Programas. He said there was almost no hope the trapped miners still were living.

Officials said it is unclear exactly how many men were inside the mine because the owners recently abandoned the operation and area residents, mainly farmers, have been working it on for extra cash.

Robles said about 900 men work the mine with picks and shovels and each extracts up to a gram of gold a day, worth $10.

He said operations were extremely disorganized and blamed the fire and collapse on a lack of maintenance.

Lima’s La Republica newspaper quoted police as saying the miners started the fire themselves by setting the supports ablaze for better lighting.

Officials said rescuers on the scene lack technical expertise and equipment. Mayor Li said air compressors were needed urgently to clear the mine of fumes.

The government said Energy and Mines Minister Jose Carrasco reached Nazca Tuesday and was meeting civil defense officials.

Mining is Peru’s most important industry and accounts for more than half of its foreign exchange. Gold production averages about $60 million yearly and is the nation’s fifth leading mineral behind copper, silver, lead and zinc.

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