The retaining wall of a tailings dam collapsed on Monday evening at the Río Tinto mine in the Urique municipality, located in the Tarahumara mountain range in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Around 35 workers are employed at the gold-silver mine.

Conflicting reports have been released regarding the number of injuries and fatalities. According to Urique municipal government personnel, at least three people lost their lives during the accident; two of who have been identified as Óscar Castellón and Óscar Minjares. However, this information has not been corroborated by the State Attorney General’s Office. The Chihuahua authorities also reported two workers injured.

 


Witness Footage of the Collapse

 

Jesús Antonio Vega and José Enrique Bustamente, the only two miners who have been rescued, described the incident to media outlets on the scene. Bustamante said he feared for his life. “I did not know what happened; my machine was hit and overturned,” he said. “I did not have time to think about anything. … I thought I was going to die.”

Said Vega: “We did not know what happened; everything happened very fast. I woke up in the ambulance.”

Currently 150 rescue workers are scouring a 12km area for survivors. According to local reports, rescue efforts have been hampered by poor communications signals in the mountain range and the difficult terrain in which the mine is located. PROFEPA is also carrying out an inspection.

Through a statement, the government of Chihuahua announced that personnel of the State Coordination of Civil Protection (CEPC) and the Red Cross were attending the emergency. Neighboring mine Palmarejo – owned by US company Coeur Mining – made its medical and rescue equipment available for the rescue effort.

It is unclear what caused the wall to fall but the municipality is located close to Choix, Sinaloa and Alamos, Sonora, a triangle where according to the media at least four earthquakes were reported during May. The mine was said to have reached the end of its life in 2016 and was operating illegally. Authorities have ruled out risk of contamination of the Rio Fuerte in neighboring Sinaloa.

The mine is owned by Sunburst Mining, a subsidiary of Pan American Goldfields, a Canadian company. Despite reports, the company has no relation to the Australian miner Rio Tinto, although subsidiary Minera Río Tinto does carry out operations in a different municipality of Chihuahua, working in base metals.

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