A major coal mine accident in Georgia has exposed a huge hole in safety standards in the industry, with dozens of workers missing a week after a collapse in a tunnel near the mine site.
The incident on the eastern outskirts of Gori has left the government scrambling to clean up the mine, which has been operating for more than 100 years.
A group of miners had been mining for limestone in the desert when the collapse occurred in a drainage tunnel on the outskirts of the village of Alash.
They managed to escape, but workers at the site say they were trapped in a collapsed tunnel that extended up to a kilometre.
The accident has exposed how serious a problem mining accidents can be in Georgia, with hundreds of people missing a few weeks in a country with a heavy mining industry.
“We lost all the men.
We lost the women, and we lost the children.
The parents, the brothers and sisters, we lost them,” said Muneer, who was among the miners who escaped.
At the site, some 1,000 metres from a busy highway, the tunnel collapsed, trapping dozens of people.
More than 30 workers, mostly women, were injured in the collapse.
A group from a nearby mining company, Minovare, managed to reach the tunnel with shovels and bulldozers, but the workers lost sight of the tunnel when it collapsed.
Minovare’s head of safety, Fazil Seddiqi, said the mine had not had its full complement of safety personnel for the past week and was still in danger of collapsing.
Seddiqia said the company had been monitoring the safety of the site for months and had not been able to access the tunnel.
Alash was a town of around 1,500 people, located in the heart of the Gori desert.
It was home to about 2,000 miners and some 30 local businesses.
Gori is the country’s third-largest gold producing region.
The mining industry is one of the countrys main industries, and mining is a vital part of Georgia’s economy.
Georgia is a coal producing country with more than 2,500 coal mines, but only about 10% of those are active.
Mining accounted for more in 2011-12 than the entire economy.