Bodies of all 27 workers killed in Peru gold mine fire recovered

Blaze sparked by short circuit engulfed one of the tunnels at remote La Esperanza 1 mine in southern Peru.

Relatives of miners wait at the entrance of the La Esperanza 1 mine, where at least 27 people died in a fire [AFP]

The bodies of all 27 workers killed in a fire at a remote gold mine in southern Peru have been recovered, according to authorities.

Yanaquihua Mayor James Casquino told the RPP radio station on Monday that recovery operations at the mine had ended after the fire broke out Saturday.

Officials had told local media earlier that the miners were working about 100m (330 feet) below the surface when a short circuit sparked a blaze that quickly engulfed one of the tunnels.

“We have managed to recover the 27 workers’ bodies. The recovery operation ended at 1:00am,” Yanaquihua Mayor James Casquino told the RPP radio station.

The bodies were taken to the morgue in the city of Arequipa, the regional capital, Casquino said.

Images on social media showed flames and smoke erupting from the hillside at La Esperanza 1 mine in the Arequipa region, in one of the worst mining accidents in the country’s recent history.

At least 27 workers have died in a fire at a gold mine in a remote area of Arequipa in southern Peru, authorities said on May 7, 2023 [AFP]

Grief-stricken relatives gathered near the site in the town of Yanaquihua awaiting news of their loved ones.

“Where are you, darling? Where are you?” cried Marcelina Aguirre Quispe, whose husband was among the victims.

“We know there was a short circuit and, from that, an explosion. We are very shocked by everything that happened,” said Francisco Idme Mamani, whose 51-year-old brother, Frederico, also perished.

Public prosecutor Giovanni Matos had earlier told Channel N television that there were “27 dead inside the mine”.

News of the fire was only published on Sunday once police had gathered details of those who were killed. Rescue teams had worked to secure the mine before removing the bodies.

“We have to make the place where the dead are safe so we can enter it and recover the bodies,” Matos said before the bodies were recovered.

Casquino told the Andina news agency that most of the miners would have died of asphyxiation and burns.

The regional government said in a statement that the emergency response had been complicated because the closest police station was about 90 minutes away from the site and several hours from the closest city.

The mine, operated by Minera Yanaquihua, is a legal enterprise, but there are many illegal mines in the region.

The company has been operating mines in Peru for 23 years.

Last year, 39 people died in mining-related incidents, according to the mining and energy ministry.

In 2020, four workers died after becoming trapped when a mine in Arequipa collapsed.

Mining is one of the engines of the Peruvian economy. The country is the largest gold and copper producer in Latin America, and the industry accounts for more than 8 percent of Peru’s gross domestic product.

The country is also the world’s second-largest producer of silver, copper and zinc, according to official sources.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies