«We asked the survivors if they know how many were down there with them, they also don’t know. «
«We are also still unsure how many metres of the tunnel has actually collapsed,» he said.
But Haris Bambela, the head of the social department from Bolaang Mongondow regency, said «we estimate around 50 are still trapped» — a rise on initial estimates.
«The area of the collapsed mine is very difficult to reach, there are 90 degree cliffs,» he said.
«The last man was evacuated alive but after the rescue team had to amputate his legs trapped under the rubble, he died shortly after.»
Haris said seven to ten groups of miners had been working underground when the mine collapse took place.
Photos showed a trapped miner’s arms and head jutting through a gap in rocks and rescuers toiling through the night in arduous conditions.
A woman who took her missing husband’s ID to an emergency command post cried out in anguish when an officer showed her a photo of a dead victim they believed was her husband, video showed.
«God forgive me,» she screamed.
Wooden structures in the mine collapsed on Tuesday evening due to shifting soil and the large number of mining holes.
The national disaster agency said at least 140 people from different agencies were involved in the rescue effort. It said there was an urgent need for body bags.
Rescuers were using their bare hands and basic tools to search for the missing in the remote, inaccessible location. They fashioned stretchers from tree branches, twine and other material. Photos showed rescuers working in mine tunnels.
Informal mining operations are commonplace in Indonesia, providing a tenuous livelihood to thousands who labor in conditions with a high risk of serious injury or death.
Small and often unauthorised mining is rising in many parts of Asia and Africa. A study by the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development found the number of people engaged in such mining had risen to more than 40 million, up from 30 million in 2014 and 6 million in 1993.
Landslides, flooding and collapses of tunnels are just some of the hazards. Much of the processing of gold ore involves use of highly toxic mercury and cyanide by workers using little or no protection.
James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.
Amilia Rosa is Assistant Indonesia Correspondent for Fairfax Media.