Liberia: 10 Dead, 30 Missing, No Excavator to Conduct Rescue Search As Survivors Say Mines Ministry Forced Them Into Abandoned Mine

River Cess — As the search for victims in the Chio Town disaster continues, family of the victims have begun pointing fingers at officials of the Ministry of Mines and Energy in the county over the incident. Ten people are confirmed dead with more than 30 still missing and either trapped beneath the ground or dead.

“We are told that more than 30 people are still under there,” said Steve Tequah, River Cess Second District Representative.

On Thursday there were no family members of the missing at the site. People here said that was likely because they had come from other places further away in Liberia. Many of the ten whose bodies have been recovered came from locals towns. There have been emotional scenes as family began burying them.

“In the night I was sleeping when the people started calling saying the dirt na break,” cried Naomi Chappy, sister of Tardeh Chappy, who was among those found dead. “When we heard that deposit burst, we came to hustle. We spent the whole day here.”

Volunteer rescuers were used shovels and diggers during the search that saw 10 lifeless bodies recovered but authorities put a halt to it saying it had become dangerous. A team from the National Disaster Management arrived late Wednesday night, even though Liberia’s Information Minister had told the public that they were already on the ground in a press briefing in Monrovia on Tuesday. The River Cess Legislative Caucus had constituted a committee to take charge of the situation in the absence of the National Disaster Management team.

“As we await national government, the county administration has contacted an individual who owns an excavator,” Isaac Williams, River Cess County Information Officer told NN/FPA. “By tomorrow, we will use the excavator to uncover those who are presumed trapped underground.”

But the excavator did not arrive. Williams said the owner of the equipment informed them he has no means of transporting it to the site.

Mines and Energy Authority officials here said Bea Mountain Mining Company which is rebuilding a road in the county, has agreed to make one excavator available but it has to be transported from its current location to the site but the truck that is to transport it will have to come from Monrovia.

The County health team and the Liberia National Red Cross have begun arrangements with locals for a location that could be used for mass burial in the case the bodies are discovered.

As the search goes on, survivors have started to point the finger of blame at local Mines Ministry authorities. They said that instead of preventing people from entering the pit, the regional coordinator of the Ministry, instructed some miners to go into the mine on Monday and get some of the gravel, potentially bearing gold, for him.

“The regional coordinator of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, after he saw that the people were plenty, he made us form a line and he say we should go in the hole two, two,” said Trokon Nurse, a motorcyclist and miner, who had just left the mine when it collapsed. “I chose my partner, and we went in the hole and got our own of dirt. But before that, the DEA and the mining agent finished taking their own dirt and they were washing the gravel.”

“The mining agent put the people in line and say they mun (should) go in the hole,” said Naway. “I tried stopping them, but the Lands and Mines people did not listen to me because they had people in the hole working for them.”

Fahnseth B. Mulbah, Deputy Minister for Planning at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, who arrived at the site on Wednesday, said an investigation will be launched and anyone found liable will be dealt with according to the law.

“The allegation is grave,” said Mulbah. “What we will do is to launch an investigation, and we will surely deal with anyone who is involved as claimed by the people here.”

Residents of Chio Town woke up early Tuesday morning to the news of a mudslide that occurred an artisanal mine on the outskirt of the town about 11pm Monday. Local authorities in River Cess confirmed the death of at least ten people. No new dead have been discovered since Tuesday.

Ansu V. Dulleh, head of Liberia’s Disaster Management Agency said in a phone call that, “it is even possible there are people who are still alive under there.”

He said his agency is working with the Ministry of Public Works to secure some earthmovers for the rescue search.

This story is a collaboration with New Narratives.