At least 42 miners were stuck 2,4km underground at Hartbeesfontein gold mine late on Wednesday after an earthquake shook the Klerksdorp mining area in the North West province.
”Rescue teams are working to open entry tunnels that were closed by rock falls,” said Ilja Graulich, spokesperson for DRDGold, which operates the mine.
He said the company does not yet have information on the safety of the miners.
”We are digging. We are digging,” he said.
So far, 2 380 miners have been brought to safety. Another 778 are awaiting lifts to the surface, Graulicj said.
”There have been 23 injuries, and no fatalities.”
The earthquake — measuring at least five on the Richter scale — was ”a secondary effect” of mining activity, an expert said.
”This is probably a re-activation of an existing fault line. No one is to blame,” said Ian Saunders, project leader of the South African National Seismograph Network at the Council for Geoscience in Pretoria.
He said the quake was ”unpredictable and unpreventable”.
Police said about another 40 people in Stilfontein town had slight injuries, and a number of buildings had to be evacuated.
Klerksdorp municipality spokesperson Wendy Sokupha said a disaster management team has been set up to coordinate relief activities.
She said the team will decide whether to provide temporary accommodation once structural engineers have completed inspecting damaged buildings.
”Two blocks of flats had to be evacuated because some walls went down. We have also had reports of broken geysers, broken windows and huge cracks in houses,” Sokupha said.
”At the … shopping centre the ceilings are down and there are broken windows. Children at the high school and primary school were let off early today because the schools were damaged.”
The North West health department said the injured are being treated at various hospitals in the area.
”At the present moment, we have no cases of fatal injuries but expect the situation to change as the day progress and reports flock in,” said spokesperson Barba Gaoganediwe.
He said the department has asked other hospitals in the province to be on standby.
James Duncan, spokesperson for DRDGold’s North West operations, said the mines have seismic monitoring systems that monitor on an ongoing basis.
This system registered four ”fairly large” events between 12.15pm and 12.22pm.
”We are still pinpointing the exact magnitudes. There were a number of smallish events afterwards,” said Duncan..
There have been reports of damage underground, but it is too early to determine the extent of the damage.
Anglo American spokesperson Andries van Zyl said earlier on Wednesday its operations have not been affected.
Goldfields spokesperson Regina Kilfoyle said the company’s two mines in the area have not been touched by the earthquake and there appears to be no damage.
Saunders said the earthquake’s epicentre is believed to have been around Klerksdorp.
He said such a measure is ”quite serious” for South Africa, which is an aseismic country (not prone to earthquakes).
The largest recent earthquake to hit South Africa — in the Tulbagh area in the Western Cape in 1969 — measured 6,1 on the Richter scale.
Saunders said any seismic events above three on the scale are considered earthquakes. Below that, they are called micro-seismic activity.
The tremor was felt as far as Johannesburg. — Sapa