An illegal gold mine in Indonesia has collapsed and buried dozens of people who are “screaming for help,” according to a disaster management official at the mine, where three people were confirmed dead.
At least two of the confirmed victims were killed by falling rocks, disaster management agency official Abdul Muin Paputungan told CNN.
Up to 43 illegal miners are estimated to be still buried, he said. “Some of the victims who are still trapped are screaming for help. We can hear that they’re (able to) respond to us, but we cannot reach them yet because the land is susceptible (to collapse) and moved easily,” he said.
Rescuers are moving gingerly for fear of sparking another cave-in.
Fourteen others have been rescued.
Searchers are having to work by hand because heavy equipment cannot be brought into the remote location in the north of Sulawesi island.
The landslide struck at 9 p.m. local time Tuesday (9 a.m. ET) in the village of Bakan.
Video posted by Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Board for Disaster Management, showed helmeted rescue workers struggling to access the site, a steeply sloping area churned up by the collapse and dotted with shattered trees and displaced boulders.
Paputungan told CNN the cave-in occurred when struts supporting the mine entrance broke. The area is dotted with illegal mineshafts and tunnels, he said.
’Caused by human activity’
Agus Budianto, landslide mitigation head at the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center, said the landslide was caused by the opening of the illegal mine.
Before starting a gold mine, a company should consult locals to confirm the terrain is suitable, he told CNN by phone.
Such a consultation would examine “the type of soil – if it is stony or not – how many trees or other forestation is present in the location, and the ability of the slope to support the burden if it rains (heavily).”
But locals operating small-scale illegal mines use traditional techniques and do not conduct any kind of feasibility study before starting to dig.
Budianto said the struts supporting the shaft entrance had broken under pressure from the soil above. “This is not a landslide disaster but it is caused by human activity itself.”
Provincial and local governments should be responsible for warning the public about the dangers of illegal mining, he said.
Deadly landslides occur periodically in the Southeast Asian country. In 2016, floods and landslides killed 35 people in the province of Central Java.
CNN’s Edy Amin and Stella Ko contributed reporting from Hong Kong.