Blaze sparked by short circuit engulfed one of the tunnels at remote La Esperanza 1 mine in southern Peru.
At least 27 workers have been killed in a fire at a remote gold mine in southern Peru in one of the worst mining accidents in the country’s recent history, according to authorities.
Officials told local media on Sunday that the miners were working about 100m (330 feet) below the surface when a short circuit on Saturday sparked a blaze that quickly engulfed one of the tunnels.
Images on social media showed flames and smoke erupting from the hillside at La Esperanza 1 mine in the Arequipa region.
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 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 were trying 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.
There have been no reports of survivors or information about how many people were in the mine at the time of the fire. As of late Sunday, 12 bodies had been recovered before rescue teams suspended their operations at nightfall, police said in a statement.
Yanaquihua Mayor James 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.