By Reynaldo Munoz
ICA, Peru — Oscar Valdes, cabinet chief to Peru's President Ollanta Humala, said Sunday it could take two or three more days to rescue nine miners trapped since Thursday in a mine in southern Peru.
Valdes, who was on site to monitor rescue operations, told journalists that an engineer working on the rescue operation said it could be delayed for "two to three more days" due to fresh collapses inside the Cabeza de Negro mine, about 325 kilometers (202 miles) south of Lima.
The miners have been trapped 250 meters (820 feet) underground in a horizontal tunnel since Thursday when a shaft collapsed.
The nine, aged 22 to 59 and including a father and son, were not injured and remain together. They were being supplied with oxygen, water and soup through a metal tube that they also use to communicate with rescue workers.
Some were able to speak with relatives who are staying near the mine at an improvised camp of about 80 people that also includes police, firefighters and other miners.
While their health was generally sound, some of the miners were suffering from anxiety, not unusual for the emergency situation and its risks.
"One of the miners told me that they are stable, and that they do believe they are going to be rescued," said Ica provincial health official Huber Mallma.
But authorities seemed to be cautious about taking a happy ending for granted.
In addition to Valdes, the government sent in Mining and Energy Minister Jorge Merino to try to get the crisis ironed out safely.
Outside the tunnel, a group of rescuers cut wood beams to reinforce the tunnel walls.
Workers were using buckets to remove the debris obstructing the shaft by hand, then pushing it out of the mine in a small mining car.
The rescuers were thought to be only about two meters (6.5 feet) from the miners on Saturday when more cave-ins slowed the pace of the operation and workers had to focus anew on shoring up the chamber to avoid a larger cave-in.
"Due to the cave-ins late Saturday we don't know exactly the distance between rescuers and the miners but communication has been maintained constantly," said Erin Gomez, a provincial civil defense manager.
Cabeza de Negro is an unlicensed mine that was was abandoned more than two decades ago by its owners, but continues to be exploited.
Informal artisanal mining has been on the rise in recent years in Peru, one of the largest producers of silver, copper and gold.
The Peruvian miners' fate recalled a similar case in Chile that made world headlines. In August 2010, 33 miners were trapped in a cave-in in the San Jose gold and copper mine in northern Chile -- after 69 days and a spectacular rescue operation with the world watching, they were brought out safely.
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.
Photo AFP, Cris Bouroncle