Forty persons are reportedly trapped at the Gbanepea Gold Mine in Gbanepea Town, Near Tappita City, Nimba County. According to reports, about 60 persons, mainly young men, went to the mines when a portion of the land crashed on them and about 20 of them were able to return safely on Saturday, February 9. The situation has sent the town into mourning.
When the Daily Observer visited the scene of the accident, there were many people searching for their loved ones, while others wept for their relatives who were reported to have been left under the debris.
Prince Kruah, 32, explained that up press time last night, he could not locate his brother, Mehnkeh, a father of 7. “Since the incident, I am yet to locate my brother, who was among the group that went in the hole, but I continue to search for him everywhere,” he said in tears.
Meanwhile, five bodies were reported to have been retrieved from the disaster.
Another eyewitness, who is among the survivors, told this newspaper that there were about 60 persons in the hole when the debris collapsed on them.
He said they dug about 20 feet deep and went 200 meters digging under the mines (undermine digging) where there were four compartments.
He said gold deposits were located in each of the compartments and to get to the gold, they had to crawl on narrow paths. He said more than 40 persons had crawled into the compartments when what seemed like a landslide descended on them. He said those who were far deeper into the holes could not find any escape route, except those who were not near the compartments.
“I managed to survive, because I was not near the compartment,” he said, adding that he would not identify himself, because his family had warned him not to venture into the mines.
G. Odafor Kartee, a member of the family that owns the land where the Gbanepea Gold Mine is located, expressed concern over the influx of young men who are involved in mining activities.
Kartee said this is the third time such an incident had taken place in the area, and had killed people since the mine was open in late September, 2018.
He explained that gold was discovered in the area in the early 1930s. The Gbanepea Gold Mine is about 10 kilometers from Tappita City, and it has drawn huge numbers of teenagers, including women, seeking for gold.
In December last year, the local authority ordered the mine closed due to the continued landslide, which always resulted in a number of casualties.
Tappita District Statutory Superintendent, Audrey Wehyee blamed one Papa Emmanuel Kartee, who reportedly owns creek that contains the gold deposit for the incident. Wehyee said Kartee failed to abide by the closure order from the local authority.
He said the very night of the incident, Papa Kartee took some boys on the field, where they were able to extract 60 bags of gravel for him.
He alleged that afterward, the boys took advantage to rush into the hole, when the landslide blocked the entrance, leaving several trapped or killed.
Recently, there was a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Papa Kartee and a Sackor family to jointly mine the area, but the MoU is yet to be notarized, Supt. Wheye said.
G. Gibrel Moses, head of a private security firm manning the place, said the day the MoU was signed, a group of men over 800 rushed to the gold field, chanted terroristic threats aginst anyone who would stand in their way, with a slogan “last rush.”
“We tried stopping them, but they overpowered us at midnight only to hear in the morning that some of them were trapped in the mine and died,” Moses said.
Residents of Kartee’s village said that the young miners got to the mine illegally under the cover of darkness, using different routes.
There is no sign of police officers at the site to man the area, but Nimba County Inspector Reginald Mehn informed this newspaper via mobile that the county officials will be meeting on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, this reporter was forbidden from reaching the actual scene of the landslide due to the presence of the country devil who had gone there to restore order.