Four miners were Monday evening still trapped in a goldmine in Abimbo, Bondo in Siaya County, five days after their shaft caved in on them, with rescuers indicating that they were exercising extra caution for the safety of the men due to the delicate ground around them.
Rescuers encountered a setback at the site on Monday evening when a heap of soil that had been scooped from the shaft collapsed, injuring one person and forcing them to temporarily stop the rescue mission, hoping to proceed at night.
The mishap happened as one of the survivors of the tragedy revealed he had sounded the alarm about a tremor while inside the shaft before the Thursday incident, but was dismissed by his supervisor as inexperienced.
At the collapsed site, two excavators have since stopped scooping soil, paving way for dozens of miners to manually try and secure their trapped colleagues.
The four were among a group of 10 that had been working at the shaft when it collapsed on Thursday morning. They have been surviving on oxygen that is pumped to them using a compressor.
Five miners were rescued alive between Thursday and Sunday while one was retrieved dead on Saturday.
Bondo Deputy County Commissioner Richard Karani said rescue efforts have taken longer due to the delicate ground at the site where the artisanal miners are trapped.
"The excavation needs to be done with a lot of keenness, failure to which we might cause more harm. The lumps of soils are too soft [for rescuers] to use excavators," he told the Nation on Monday, as rescue efforts went on, more than 100 hours later.
By daytime Monday, the rescuers had covered some ground, with the miners now trapped about 50 feet below. But they suffered a setback after the heap of soil collapsed on the shaft again.
At the entrance of the shaft, some men stood with a long pipe coordinating communication with the trapped miners.
Mr Kevin Obada, one of the men in communication with the trapped miners, said they were inching closer to rescuing them.
"We have been in communication with them through a middleman at the tunnel and they are still alive. We supply them with oxygen constantly when they ask for it," he said.
Three of the trapped minors are in one area while the fourth is at a separate corner.
"From their engagement with the trapped miners, they are surviving with the oxygen being pumped through a compressor. It is very difficult to pass food to them, otherwise we would have given them water," he said.
Since Thursday last week, a rescue committee has been on the ground working on saving the trapped miners. The committee comprises of county government officials and other multi-agency teams.
According to Siaya County Disaster Management Unit Officer George Aola, there is very little they can do when such tragedies occur.
“For a long time, mining has been enlisted as a responsibility of the national government, leaving us with very little to do during disasters,” he said.
Mr Aola confirmed that their role has been limited to providing their rescue services whenever the gold mines collapse and evacuating the affected victims.
Among survivors of the tragedy is 22-year-old Bernard Ochieng who is recuperating at Bondo Sub-County Hospital with injuries.
For four days, he was trapped in the goldmine, surviving on oxygen being pumped down the tunnel until Sunday morning when the rescue team managed to save him.
"I arrived at the mines on Thursday morning at 7am as usual. We went through the chambers; by 9am we came out for breakfast," he narrated.
The miner said he felt a tremor while in the shaft and alerted his senior who is charge of the mines about the same but he was quick to dismiss him for being inexperienced.
"Had they paid attention to the warning I had sounded, perhaps we would not have been trapped in the mines,” said Mr Ochieng.
Another survivor, Livingstone Odhiambo, who got out of the mines healthy and strong after more than 36 hours, narrated his horrifying experience as he waited for rescuers to reach him.
He had been working at the mines for just a week when tragedy struck.
"We heard the ground trembling and immediately knew all was not well," said Mr Odhiambo, who said the hot temperature underground was unbearable.
Families of the four trapped men continue camping at the gold mine with the hope that their loved ones will be rescued alive.
The families, who travelled from various parts of Siaya. have been at the Abimbo mines since Thursday evening when they learnt about the tragedy.
This is not the first of such tragedy in Siaya County.
In April this year, three people were buried alive after a gold mine collapsed in Masambra village, Ugenya Sub-County.
In March, the National Environment Management Authority banned gold mining in parts of Bondo and Rarieda sub-counties in Siaya after it emerged that many small scale miners were disregarding environmental guidelines.
The ban followed reports that some Tanzanian nationals were using poisonous chemicals to extract mineral in the area, with residents of the affected areas of Nango, Kajohn, Wagusu, Got Abiero and other parts of Nyang'oma division reporting that their livestock were dying after ingesting the substance.