The desperate shouts for help from gold miners who have been trapped for days under debris on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi have fallen silent, an official said Saturday.
The illegal mine collapsed on Tuesday in Bolaang Mongondow, after soil shifted in the sloping, green terrain and wooden support beams at the site suddenly broke.
Eight miners have died and 20 have been rescued, according to The Associated Press. About three dozen people are thought to still be trapped.
“Since yesterday, we have heard no more voices from inside,” said local disaster official Abdul Muin Paputungan, according to the AP. “On this fourth day, the signs of life faded away.”
Paputungan added that rescuers will still try to save the miners, “even though at the moment, it seems like a miracle if they can survive.”
Some have already lost hope.
“There is no hope for survivors,” said a spokesperson at the National Search and Rescue Agency, according to CNN.
The father of one trapped miner told Agence France-Presse earlier in the week that he had been talking with his son beneath the rubble.
“He asked for water because he was thirsty,” Amrin Simbala said. “Later in the afternoon, no more voices could be heard.”
More than 200 people have been working to rescue the trapped workers, using ropes, spades and their fingers in an attempt to carve out spaces in the ground. They were able to give food and water to some of the miners, but officials have expressed fear that oxygen is running out in some areas of the pit.
Miners who made it out were taken away on makeshift stretchers.
One survivor was pulled out of the debris after his leg was caught underneath a fallen rock. Medical personnel amputated the leg and he died from blood loss, according to AFP.
Authorities have hesitated to bring in more people and to use heavy machinery for fear of causing new landslides, Paputungan said. An excavator reportedly began to hollow out ground on Friday morning after relatives approved the plan.
For an archipelago rich with minerals, a number of illegal mines pockmark Indonesia’s landscape.
A World Bank report from 2000 detailed how traditional and small-scale mining persisted in the country despite the government’s awareness of environmental damage, either because of a lack of will or a lack of ability to halt the practice.
In one part of the country, West Java, some 26,000 people were working in illegal gold mines — a 500 percent increase in three years, the World Bank said.
In North Sulawesi, corruption prevented the closure of illegal mines, according to the report. The Ministry of Forestry mounted a campaign to crack down on illegal gold mining, but local police did not enforce government orders. Three months later, the same number of mines were operating.
In more recent years, authorities have raided unlicensed mines. Law enforcement arrested people on suspicion of trading illegally mined gold in 2016. After the arrest, the police station was set on fire in apparent retaliation, the AFP reported.
Locals are often lured into the business because they lack job opportunities.
“This is all I can do to earn a living,” a miner identified only as Iwan told AFP.
But illegal mines leave them vulnerable to hazardous work conditions.
Agus Budianto, a landslide expert at the Indonesia-based Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, told CNN that local construction techniques of unlicensed mines don’t involve feasibility studies.
He said that on Tuesday, the supports for the shaft’s entrance caved under pressure from the soil, closing the miners’ exit path.
“This is not a landslide disaster, but it is caused by human activity itself,” he said.
Relatives of the trapped miners were gathering at the rescue site, offering to join the search and hoping for good news.