Rescue teams in Nicaragua have been scrambling frantically to reach at least 20 workers trapped deep underground for more than 24 hours after a cave-in at an unlicensed gold mine.
Two workers buried near the surface managed to dig their way out after the collapse early Thursday in the remote village of El Comal in northeastern Nicaragua, according to the local disaster prevention committee.
But another 20 are marooned in the mine shaft 800 metres underground, said presidential spokeswoman Rosario Murillo on Friday, after being briefed by officials coordinating the desperate rescue effort.
There had been 28 “guiriseros,” or informal gold miners, working in the shaft when the mouth of the mine caved in because of a landslide triggered by heavy downpours.
Authorities said they were trying to confirm whether any miners had died, noting that the incident happened in a hard-to-reach area with poor communication.
“Supposedly there are dead but that is not confirmed,” said local disaster official Martha Lagos.
A local TV station had showed what appeared to be the body of a dead miner being recovered.
Police, soldiers and other miners were taking part in the operation, using rescue dogs to help locate the victims.
“You can hear that there are people alive because we heard voices,” Lagos earlier told the website 19 Digital.
The accident happened at an artisanal mine near the town of Bonanza, which is perched on the side of a hill, in a region that is home to Nicaragua’s biggest gold mines.
Desperate relatives initially tried to dig through to the trapped miners but the land was too unstable, news reports said.
President Daniel Ortega “is following the rescue operation” and has suspended an event Saturday to inaugurate a new bridge, his spokeswoman said.
Business has boomed over the past decade for Nicaragua’s “guiriseros” as the price of gold has risen from less than $US400 ($A432) an ounce to more than $US1200 ($A1300).
They descend into old shafts that have been abandoned by conventional mining companies and look for remaining gold or dig even deeper to find new veins.