Rescue workers have found no survivors in a rescue chamber deep inside a flooded zinc mine in Burkina Faso, the government has said, all but extinguishing hope that eight missing miners could still be alive after a month.
The Perkoa mine, owned by Canadian firm, Trevali Mining Corp, and located west of the capital Ouagadougou, was abruptly submerged on April 16 after torrential rain fell unexpectedly during the country's dry season.
There had been faint hope during a month-long search and rescue operation that the missing men might have reached the rescue chamber, which is stocked with food and water and located around 570 meters below ground.
“The rescue teams have opened the refuge chamber, unfortunately, it is empty. Everything suggests that the miners were unable to reach the refuge chamber at the moment when the flood happened and searches are ongoing,” the government’s information service said in a statement posted on social media.
Distraught relatives of the missing men have been gathering every day at the site in the Sanguie province, seeking solace from each other as they faced the agonising wait for news.
Now the families' hopes rest on a second chamber that is located right at the bottom of the 710m mine. Also known as survival rooms, they are sealed off and can offer safety with oxygen and are stocked with water and snacks. While hope is focused on the rescue chambers, there has been no actual sign of life so far.
Both the company and the government have launched investigations into the causes of the incident. Recently, Burkina Faso Prime Minister, Albert Ouedraogo, banned managers of the Canadian-owned Perkoa Mine from leaving the country while the workers still missing. Following the latest development, Trevali has vowed that search crews will continue to work 24-hours-per-day until the missing individuals are recovered.
With many in Burkina Faso asking why it took so long to reach the rescue chamber and criticism of the company and state emergency services mounting, Trevali said the technical challenges were immense.
Rescuers have pumped out about 55 million litres of floodwater, out of an estimated total of 165 million litres that swept through the underground portion of the mine.
The Perkoa mine consists of an open pit with underground shafts and galleries below. Most of the workers who were there at the time of the flash flood were able to escape, but the missing eight were more than 520 metres beneath the surface. Six of the missing men are Burkina Faso nationals, one is from Tanzania and one from Zambia.