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Turkey suspends rescue operation for miners trapped in landslide at gold mine: report

The search for nine miners trapped under a huge pile of earth in a landslide at a gold mine in the eastern Turkish province of Erzincan has been suspended, the ANKA news agency reported, citing the Independent Miners’ Union.

The tragedy occurred at the Çöpler gold mine in Erzincan province on Tuesday when a massive landslide sent some 10 million cubic meters of earth contaminated with cyanide and sulphuric acid sliding down the 200-meter-high slope of the heap leach pad.

The suspension, which was announced seven days after the disaster, is due to the continuing instability of the ground and the presence of hazardous materials making rescue operations difficult.

Speaking to ANKA, Mert Batur, an expert from the Independent Miners’ Union, described the precarious conditions at the gold mine site, where a 4 to 8-inch ground displacement was detected, leading to the suspension of all activities, including critical search and rescue operations. Nine miners are still missing, and their fate becomes more uncertain with each passing day.

Earlier today Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya spoke to CNN Türk about the ongoing operation, saying the efforts continued round the clock. The minister said the soil had slid into three main areas around the collapsed mine and that there was a risk of another landslide.

The mine is operated by Anagold Madencilik and is jointly owned by Turkey’s Çalık Holding and SSR Mining, based in Denver, Colorado.

According to ANKA, the rescue efforts were further complicated by a move by a subcontractor working for Anagold tasking the miners with relocating the cyanide-contaminated soil – an activity that not only deviates from their normal duties but also poses significant health and safety risks. According to Batur, this task shift has led to confusion and reluctance among the workers. Some have chosen to leave their jobs rather than face the dangers associated with the task.

Batur criticized the lack of adequate measures to protect workers and the environment in such critical situations and pointed out that special training and equipment are required to safely deal with chemical hazards.

The environment ministry has recently announced the cancellation of Anagold’s environmental permit and license documents.

Authorities have arrested six people in connection with the landslide, among them several executives of the mining company, including a Canadian citizen.

According to a news report by the state-run Anadolu agency, Anagold’s Turkey director, identified only by the initials C.D., was also briefly detained in connection with the accident. C.D. was released under judicial supervision and a travel ban, Anadolu said.

The agency also quoted Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar over the weekend, saying that daily water measurements are conducted at nine points in the mine and that none of these measurements detected any contaminants that could pose a risk to public health.

The İstanbul Bar Association has filed criminal charges of abuse of public duty, involuntary manslaughter and environmental crimes against various individuals, including Anagold Madencilik officials, former environment minister Murat Kurum and experts involved in the approval of the environmental impact assessment for the mine.

The mine had previously been declared safe from landslides in environmental impact assessments conducted during Kurum’s tenure as minister of environment, urbanization and climate change. Kurum is currently the mayoral candidate for İstanbul from the ruling AKP and has been criticized for his share of responsibility in the high death toll of major earthquakes that struck southern Turkey in 2023 and killed more than 53,000 people.

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