Liberia: Survivors’ Story – Artisanal Miners Explain Daring Escape from Gold Mine Collapse
Selma Lomax, [email protected]
Jorquelleh District, Bong County – Wednesday May 6, 2020 will forever be etched in the minds of four artisanal miners who survived a two-day ordeal in flooded shafts at Jackson Village gold mine, Jorquelleh District Three, Bong County.
The Jackson Village gold mine collapsed last week, killing at least four miners and trapping more than ten others underground, police in Bong County told FrontPage Africa recently.
The artisanal miners never emerged Wednesday, May 6 from after entering the night before, police said. As efforts to rescue the miners continue, authorities don’t know yet the exact number of trapped miners, although four are feared dead, Bong County police commander told FrontPage Africa.
For the four – J. Abraham Togba (27), Joseph Larblah (25), Anthony Kerkulah (29) and Josiah Tarplah (26) — the day was memorable after they were hauled to the surface by rescue teams to be reunited with friends and relatives who had been camped at the site since that day waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones.
In separate interviews Friday after regaining their freedom and being rescued from the jaws of death, three of the four recounted how they survived their two-day ordeal without food and clean water and how it reaffirmed their faith in the almighty.
“As we tried to escape the disaster, we stepped on at least five bodies. The possibility of others coming out alive from our shaft are now very slim. However, it is possible that they could have found somewhere to hide like we did.” The tragedy struck as we were about to get out of the pit.”J. Abraham Togba, 27, Mine Collapse Survivor
Togba said the two days were harrowing as they waited to be rescued.
“It was a terrible experience as we spent two days without eating. We survived on water during those days,” he said.
“Hope of making it alive was slowly fading as the days progressed. l did not stop praying during this time day and night asking God to help me make it out alive,” he said.
Togba said they had to step on dead bodies and there was a possibility of a high number of miners still underground.
“As we tried to escape the disaster, we stepped on at least five bodies. The possibility of others coming out alive from our shaft are now very slim. However, it is possible that they could have found somewhere to hide like we did,” he said. He said tragedy struck as they were about to get out of the pit.
“We had finished our mining activities and, on our way, out we were pushed backwards by water and luckily we managed to climb on a rock where the water level was low. That is where we were perched for the past four days,” he said.
Another survivor, Larblah shocked authorities and onlookers as he emerged from the shaft with a sack of gold which he refused to surrender and carried to the hospital.
One of the rescuers, Kerkulah said they heard voices of people shouting as they were pumping out water from the pits.
“We heard people shouting and we opened another channel and a team of six went underground to rescue them. We expected to find only one person alive and not such a high number,” he said.
Kerkulah said six of his relatives were trapped and two of them survived. He said de-watering should continue as there were chances of finding other people alive.
Those who survived were reported to have sought refuge in an area once drilled by miners who were looking for samples during exploration.
The holes let in air which allowed them to breathe.
While the recovery of the four brought relief and joy to their friends and relatives, for other relatives it remains a long and painful waiting period for news of their relatives that were still unaccounted for.
One of these was Deborah Flomo whose son was still trapped at the gold mine.
Mrs Flomo, who spoke to FrontPage Africa with tears rolling down her cheeks, said she was afraid that her son might not come out alive.
“I know people are saying there is hope that my son Peter, 24, and would be found alive but from what I am seeing, and the level of water saw, there is little chance of that happening. I am preparing for the worst,” she said. “My son was working at the mine trying to make a living only to return Gbarnga in November this year.”
On Thursday, May 14, 2020, authorities of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy in Bong County ordered a halt to all gold mining activities in Jackson Village. The order by mining inspector Cyrus Onana comes after at least four illegal miners died. Onana said the order was to enforce a mandate and protect the environment, especially following a string of natural disasters in the area.