Local authorities in Huye District are on the spot after a mine, which they said they were not aware of collapsed in area, burying for six people alive.
Grief has engulfed families for four days now, even as local authorities in the area four days ago denied knowledge of the mine.
Seperately, Dushimimana Narcisse, head of the inspectorate department at Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board said the mine has been operating illegally and was not registered or licensed.
“We have taken a few samples from the mine to test and establish which mineral is mined in this site, but as of now we are also in the dark,” said Dushimimana.
Families of the affected miners are hanging on hope that their loved ones will be rescued alive while following the ongoing efforts to save them at tents they pitched near the scene of the accident.
Local authorities, from sector to district authorities have denied their knowledge of the mine existing in the area, despite the mine having been in operation for the past four years.
But residents have said local leadership are just feigning ignorance of the mine to escape culpability and likely consequences, saying they knew of its existence and that some have even visited it several times before in the past four years.
“They are just feigning ignorance, maybe they are avoiding compensating the families that have lost their loved ones in the mine, but this is not right at all, leaders should own up and take responsibility,” said one of the residents.
Nteziryayo Eulade, who stays near the mine, says. “Young men have been coming to mine here day and night, we learned about its collapse at late in the evening, I know two of the kids that are still trapped in the mine,”
Four days later, graders are still digging out the collapsed soil in desperate efforts to get them out even as their hopes dwindle after the first day. Erick Nshimiyimana, a young man who also works in the same mine was not on duty on that fateful day but was
around the mine at the time it collapsed and buried his friends.
“The accident happened between 2 and 3 pm, I hadn’t worked on that day but six of my colleagues had gone into the pit to do the work when the mine collapsed and buried them.”
“We quickly build make-shift pulleys using big sticks to pull the collapsed soil out to clear the pit pathways, as we normally do when it collapses, but this time the speed of the avalanche and large quantities of the collapsed soil outpaced our efforts, there’s nothing more we could do,” he said.
He said it normally took them up to one and a half hours to descend to the bottom of the pit, which is estimated to be more than 100 meters deep. The victims, who are also residents of the area are said to be two old men, and four young men.
Nshimiyimana has worked in this mine since 2021, but he doesn’t know which mineral they mine exactly, saying all these years they were just tasked to dig and pull the earth out of the pit, and that it's from that earth that technicians extract the minerals.
He says there is a time it also collapsed in the past, but it wasn’t serious, it just closed their path and they found another way out. “It’s a mine that has been operated in a lot of secrecy. No one knows its owner, and no one knows which mineral is mined there, but that said, local leaders knew about its existence,” he said.
He said they have only identified a one Nteziryayo Leonard, who has been the person paying the mine workers, but he is also on the run since the tragedy, but that investigations are continuing.
“We have taken a few samples from the mine to test and establish which mineral is mined in this site, but as of now we are also in the dark” said Dushimimana.
The vice mayor of Huye district in charge of social affairs, Annonciathe Kankesha, said the information about the existence of such a dangerous illegal mine was only shared among locals not to the leadership.
“Nevertheless we are asking for forgiveness from residents for having not known and acted earlier which maybe would have averted such a tragedy, rescue efforts continue such that even if we find them dead we give them a decent burial,” she said.