Nearly 500 South African miners escape after fire

Johannesburg: Nearly 500 miners who were trapped underground by a fire at a gold mine in South Africa were brought to the surface safely, a spokeswoman for mining company Harmony Gold said.

The fire at the mine near Carletonville, about an hour from Johannesburg, was detected at around 0740 GMT, nearly two kilometres underground. "All the miners are out," Charmane Russell told AFP. "Fortunately in this instance, things went according to plan."

Harmony Gold said yesterday 486 miners were working in the Kusasalethu mine when the fire broke out. All employees were notified and advised to move to refuge bays in the mine, said Russell. "Our employees have been trained for this," she said.

Mining operations were suspended as rescue teams were brought in to contain the fire, cutting off ventilation to the flames before moving from level to level to locate the workers. By late yesterday, the fire had been contained and hundreds of miners had been brought to the surface.

But 18 remained missing. South Africa's President Jacob Zuma expressed shock at the incident, wishing "the miners and their families strength" and urging "everything possible" be done to rescue them. "I urge all South Africans to keep the miners in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult period," he said in a statement.

Less than an hour later, the missing men were reported as safe, rescued from nearly 3.5 kilometres underground, Russell said. No injuries were reported. "We are extremely grateful that all of our colleagues have been brought to surface, without injury," Harmony Gold CEO Graham Briggs said in a statement yesterday.

He said the cause of the fire would be investigated, but an earlier company statement said it was believed to have started while maintenance work was being done on an air cooler. South Africa's economy is heavily dependent on the mining of platinum, gold and coal.

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