Colombia mine collapse: Diggers brought in to search

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It is unclear how many people are buried, as Alpa Patel reports

Rescue workers in Colombia are using large mechanical diggers as they try to find people buried under tonnes of mud at a gold mine.

Three bodies have been recovered so far but officials say the unstable soil is making the search problematic.

It is not clear exactly how many people are underneath the rubble, as the mine was operating illegally.

Crowds gathered at the site in the south-western Cauca department after the incident on Wednesday night.

The hundreds of miners and relatives watching the rescue efforts have refused to move away despite being warned that they themselves could be buried alive by another landslide.

"We're hoping for a miracle from God, because that's all we can hope for and wait and see what happens. Someone could have survived," one local woman said.

Image source, AFP
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Crowds of miners and relatives of the missing gathered at the site despite the risk of another landslide
Image source, AFP
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Police, soldiers, civil defence personnel and the Red Cross have all joined the rescue effort
Image source, AFP
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Correspondents say thousands of unchecked mines can be found in Colombia's most remote areas

The governor of the Cauca department, Temistocles Ortega, said illegal miners had used machinery to open huge holes to extract gold, and one of them had caved in, burying them.

At least seven large mechanical diggers have been working non-stop at the bottom of the large pit and specially trained search dogs have been deployed.

But while work continues in the mud below, an official with the firefighters at the scene said it was already too late.

"You have to eliminate the idea [of survivors]. There is no possibility that someone has survived because huge amounts of mud and earth fell on those people," he said.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos blamed the incident on illegal mining, saying his government was tackling the problem.

But correspondents say thousands of unchecked mines can be found in Colombia's most remote areas.

Only last Friday, another four miners were killed and 65 affected by poisonous gases in the Antioquia department.