3,000 workers trapped in S. Africa mine(video)
( AP ) - About 3,000 miners were trapped underground Wednesday when a water pipe burst and probably caused a shaft to collapse in a South African gold mine, officials said.
There were no immediate reports of any injuries at Harmony Gold's Elandsrand Mine near Johannesburg. A company executive said officials have been in contact with the trapped workers and expect to rescue them over the next 24 hours.
Harmony's acting chief executive, Graham Briggs, said on MSNBC that the miners have been receiving food and water.
He said the rescuers would evacuate the miners over the next day using a small cage in another shaft, but the process would be a slow one.
"It's a case of getting a large number of people up in cages," he told MSNBC, according to Dow Jones news service.
Briggs said that the workers - consisting of the mine's entire morning shift - became trapped after damage to a shaft made it unsafe for workers to use.
"Nobody was injured, but there was extensive damage to the steel work and electrical feeder cords," said Harmony Gold spokeswoman Amelia Soares, according to the South African Press Association.
The spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, Lesiba Seshoka, said the managers were meeting with union members.
"It's a terrible situation," Seshoka told The Associated Press. "The only exit is blocked, probably by a fall of ground."
Officials said burst water pipe probably caused soil in the underground shaft to collapse. Seshoka said it wasn't clear how deep the miners were underground but gold mine shafts in South Africa are typically about 1 1/2 miles below ground.
The union feared the men could be trapped without oxygen because of collapsed ground, or impeded by rock falls and mud slides by the burst ware pipe.
Seshoka charged the shafts had not been properly maintained. "Our guys there tell us that they have raised concerns about the whole issue of maintenance of shafts with the mine (managers) but they have not been attended to," he said.
Last year, 199 mineworkers died in accidents, mostly rock falls, the government Mine Health and Safety Council reported in September.