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Nearly 500 workers trapped after fire at gold mine in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA – A massive emergency operation after a fire at an underground South African gold mine on Sunday ended with the rescue of almost 280 miners.

File picture of South African mine workers
File picture of South African mine workers

South Africa’s Harmony Gold said around 280 employees were rescued with no injuries or deaths recorded after an underground fire at its Kusasalethu mine.

Harmony had earlier earlier said 287 out of 487 employees had reached an underground refuge chamber, with 199 still missing.

The bullion producer said in statement that 287 workers had earlier made it safely to underground refuge bays. Six additional mine rescue teams were brought in to help contain the blaze and assist with the search.

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The blaze broke out about 2.3 kilometres underground at Kusasalethu, a deep level operation west of Johannesburg that is Harmony’s single largest gold producer.

All operations other than essential services had been suspended, the company said.

South Africa’s gold mines are the deepest in the world and were ranked as some of the most dangerous during the apartheid era.

Mining minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi said in November that 2014 recorded the lowest number of fatalities in the industry’s history, with 84 deaths – more than half of these occurred in gold mines.

Nine workers were killed after a fire related to a seismic event at Harmony’s Doornkop mine in February last year.

Last year Harmony closed Kusasalethu for two weeks to try to remove illegal miners who had been trespassing on the operation and were believed to be starting fires. Reuters