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Death Toll Rises in Peru Mine; Hope Dims for Survivors

January 26, 1989

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Rescuers pulled two more bodies from a caved-in gold mine Wednesday but could not reach the depths of the 1,000-foot shaft, where about 100 men were feared trapped by fires set by feuding miners, officials said.

Hopes of finding survivors faded despite earlier signs of life.

Juan Taipe, who was heading the rescue effort, said two bodies were recovered Wednesday from the Sol de Oro gold mine near Nazca, 230 miles south of Lima, bringing the death toll to five. Three survivors have been found.

Earlier Wednesday, Taipe said eight bodies had been recovered, but he said later rescuers had given him incorrect information.

″There cannot be any life inside the mine because they have been trapped for five days counting today,″ said Taipe, a Nazca city councilman.

The mine caved in Monday after a fire set Saturday by rival mining factions ate through wooden tunnel supports, officials said.

Energy Minister Jose Carrasco said opposing groups of miners set the fire during a dispute over a newly discovered vein yielding 4.5 pounds of gold daily.

He said rescuers found three men alive Tuesday and heard tapping from caved-in tunnels.

But fallen earth, smoke and poison gas prevented rescuers from entering deeper in the mine until Tuesday afternoon. Taipe said Wednesday rescuers still had not been able to penetrate inner tunnels where miners were believed trapped.

Three bodies were found Monday shortly after the cave-in.

Police and government officials have given conflicting information on the number of trapped men, and police have not confirmed that any more bodies were found Wednesday.

Nazca police said Monday that 150 to 300 miners were inside. Police and Nazca officials have since scaled down the figure and said Wednesday that 100 might be trapped.

Carrasco said he has received conflicting reports from officials ranging from 15 to 200 on the number of miners trapped.

They said it is not known exactly how many men were inside the mine because its commercial operations were abandoned, and area farmers and others have been mining for a year on an independent basis for extra cash.

The fire started in the five-level mine Friday, Robles said.

Miners controlled the blaze but it flared again Saturday, Robles said, and miners working inside were blocked from leaving by heavy smoke.

Officials said miners were on the second, third and fourth levels of the mine, which extends about 1,000 feet into a half-mile high hill on Nazca’s outskirts.

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.

-NY-01-25-89 1924EST

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