Nicaragua abandons search for trapped miners

Blanca Morel
Rescuers try to reach a group of trapped gold miners in the community of El Comal, near Bonanza in northeastern Nicaragua, on August 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Inti Ocon)

Managua (AFP) - Rescue teams on Tuesday called off painstaking efforts to reach seven gold miners trapped underground in Nicaragua for nearly a week after new landslides made the work too dangerous.

Anxious relatives were brought to tears by news that the rescue was off at the makeshift mine in the remote village of El Comal in the country's northern Caribbean region.

Families had waited outside the mine since last week, hoping to recover their loved ones after 22 of 29 miners came out alive.

"My brother remained buried there in this mountain of earth. I don't know what I'll tell his daughters," said Jorge Martinez, his voice cracking with emotion.

Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo, the wife of President Daniel Ortega, said rescuers had to halt the search because "it was impossible to keep going inside."

Mud and earth were pouring into the mine constantly and tearing down the wooden structures the rescue teams had built to try to shore up the pit.

"It was dangerous and difficult to be there," she said.

The mine first collapsed because of a landslide triggered by heavy rains, trapping 29 people early Thursday. Rescuers entered the mine 33 times since Saturday but had to leave after a new landslide on Monday.

Two of the trapped miners dug themselves back to the surface. Another 20 were hauled out one by one after 30 hours trapped inside the mine.

Authorities believe the seven remaining miners fell into a deep pit. Their comrades held a minute's silence outside the mine.

"It's impossible to continue. The reality is that we would risk our lives if we keep working," said Hector Mairena, a member of the rescue team.

The mine shaft was abandoned more than 80 years ago by the foreign mining firms that operate in Nicaragua's gold-rich northeast.

But it was reopened by "guiriseros," or small-scale independent miners, a dangerous occupation that has boomed over the past decade as the price of gold has tripled from less than $400 an ounce to more than $1,200.