Geologists studying the
mineralisation of
tanzanite in
northern Tanzania
 
Arusha, Tanzania — MININGREVIEW.COM — 01 April, 2008 – Hopes are slim of finding 66 miners trapped after torrential rains flooded a tanzanite mine at Merelani, near the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha, killing at least six workers. The final death toll is therefore likely to exceed 70.

Reuters reports that rescue workers found several bodies on Sunday in the remote, privately-owned mine near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

“We are still working to see how to recover the other bodies, because personally I don’t think there’s any hope of finding them alive,”, member of parliament for Simanjiro Christopher Ole Sendeka told Reuters at the scene, adding that there were 66 people in the mine.

Local media report that the government has banned all mining activity in the area – the only place in the world where the violet-blue gemstone tanzanite is found – until the rescue operation is completed.

A Reuters witness said the scene of the flooded mine smelled of decomposing bodies. Volunteer rescuers complained of lack of basic protective gear like face masks and gloves. “Yesterday when we went down, we reached a place where we found dead bodies rotting, and the situation down there is really bad,” mineworker Samuel Chacha told Reuters.”We need help; there is no help here at all.”

Sendeka said the government was doing its best to bring in equipment and seek more help from a nearby mining company.

He revealed there were about 196 people originally in the pits at the time of the tragedy. Local media said the discrepancy in the number of miners had arisen because some miners had failed to register their names before going underground.

Explosions, flooding and suffocation are common causes of death in Tanzania’s "wild north", where small-scale independent miners dig remote gem fields in search of the violet-blue tanzanite, prized by jewellery-lovers in wealthy nations. In Tanzania’s worst mining disaster, more than 70 people were killed in 1998 when heavy rains caused a mine to collapse.