Chile’s Pinera sacks mine regulators after cave-in

Aug 11 (Reuters) – President Sebastian Pinera sacked top officials of Chile’s mining regulator on Wednesday and vowed a major overhaul as workers raced against time to rescue 33 miners trapped by a cave-in last week.

“We have called for a vast restructuring within the national service of geology and mining (Sernageomin), and for a team of experts to work with the mining minister to ensure this restructuring happens as soon as possible,” Pinera said.

He said he had requested the resignations of Sernageomin’s national director, its second in command, and its regional director in Chile’s northern mining heartland, the Atacama region.

Rescue workers are still trying to reach the miners trapped since Thursday after a collapse deep inside a small gold and copper mine near the northern city of Copiapo and located 450 miles (725 km) north of the capital, Santiago. [ID:nN09198220]

No contact has yet been made with the miners, who are around 4.5 miles (7 km) inside the winding mine and hundreds of meters vertically below ground.

Authorities hope the miners took refuge in a shelter equipped with oxygen and are rationing food and water.

Serious mining accidents are rare in Chile, but the government says the San Jose mine, which belongs to local private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, has suffered a series of accidents and that 16 workers were killed in recent years. [ID:nN06266599]

Rescuers are trying to locate the trapped miners by drilling small holes from the surface, aiming to pass fresh supplies to keep them alive while they find ways to extract them. Relatives are camped out by the mine entrance, praying the miners will emerge alive.

The rescue effort suffered setbacks after fresh cave-ins blocked a ventilation shaft rescuers were descending, and after one of the drills boring the small holes was found to be off target.

Pinera said workers were also reinforcing the mine’s tunnels to enable rescuers to safely descend a ramp and try to pass the original cave-in.

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