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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Thirty feared dead in Tanzania mine
Mining officials in Tanzania say more than 30 people are feared to have been killed after oxygen pumps failed at a mine in northern Tanzania.

Arusha's Area Commissioner, Samuel Kamoti, told the BBC's Swahili service that two bodies had been pulled out of the tanzanite mine but more than 30 were still trapped inside.

He said the rescue operation at the tanzanite mine of Mererani - 40 kilometres (24 miles) southeast of regional town of Arusha - was being hampered by lack of equipment.

Tanzania is the world's only producer of tanzanite, a semi-precious stone used by the jewellery industry.

"We are mobilising equipment to pull out more bodies," Arusha regional mines officer, Alex Magayane, told Associated Press news agency mines by telephone from Mererani.

Primitive mines

According to the chairman of the Tanzania Mine Dealers Association, Sam Mollel, at least 40 people could have died in the accident.

And even this figure appeared rather conservative compared to the one given by Mererani residents who told the BBC that at least 70 people were known to be working in the mines at the time of the accident.

Officials agree that the total number of casualties could be much higher, because more men may have been underground without permission.

Correspondents say tanzanite mines are relatively primitive and lack proper safety equipment.

They say miners are usually young men who often remain underground while carrying out blasting.

They use oxygen pumps fitted with long hoses to pump air down into the mines.

The mines amount to little more than holes hundreds of feet (metres) deep and are notoriously dangerous.

In 1998 more than 50 people died after heavy rain flooded the mines.

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The BBC's Andrew Harding
"Deprived of oxygen the men would have suffocated quickly."
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