GAUHATI, India (AP) — Thirteen young miners were missing and feared dead following the collapse of a shaft and flooding of a coal mine they were digging illegally in India’s remote northeast, police said Friday.
Efforts were being made to pump water out of the mine, which flooded Wednesday, police said. National Disaster Response Force workers joined local authorities in the rescue effort.
Police said digging in the mine was banned four years ago, but illegal and unsafe activity by private landowners and the local community is rife. The area in Meghalaya state is about 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Shillong, the state capital.
Police said rescuers can only reach the miners after the water is pumped from the mine.
“It was absolutely an illegal mining activity,” said Conrad Sangma, the state’s top elected official. He said authorities would crack down on illegal mining groups.
Those missing are believed to be teenage boys used by illegal mining groups to enter “rat hole'” mines with small openings.
Last month, an activist, Agnes Kharshiing, was assaulted by people involved in illegal mining when she visited the area to protest their activities. She remains hospitalized with life-threatening head and other injuries.
Demand for coal has increased in energy-hungry India. Operations by illegal mining groups have led to accidents.