The death toll at the Gloria coal mine in Mpumalanga, where an unknown number of illegal miners have been trapped since Monday, has risen to five, Mpumalanga police spokesperson Leonard Hlathi told News24 on Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, one man, believed to be an illegal miner, died after an explosion at the shuttered mine.
Hlathi said four more bodies were brought to the surface in the early hours of Thursday morning.
He could not say how many more people were still trapped underground.
Hlathi on Wednesday said another man had been retrieved and was well.
On Wednesday, The Citizen reported that a group of 22 people, believed to be Lesotho nationals, were trapped underground at the mine, some 36km from Middelburg.
The publication quoted the Middelburg Observer, which reported that a group of 42 Lesotho nationals had allegedly gone underground in an attempt to steal cables, when a gas explosion took place.
According to the publication, 20 members of the group managed to reach safety, leaving the remaining 22 trapped underground.
The group that managed to surface reportedly sought help from local ANC ward councillor Andile Magwane.
A search-and-rescue operation was reportedly under way at the shaft.
The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) on Wednesday said it was aware of the incident.
On Thursday, the DMR tweeted: “The Mine Rescue Services will be taking gas samples to test methane levels. All cables supplying power to ventilation fans at the mine have been stolen therefore making rescue operations more difficult. Ventilation must be connected again to ensure the rescue proceeds safely.”
DMR spokesperson Ayanda Shezi could not provide an update when contacted by News24 on Thursday.
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