Six North Korean mine workers died and one was rescued 10 days after the collapse of a newly-opened tunnel at the Unryul Mine in South Hwanghae Province on January 9, ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun reported on Monday.
A few minutes after 46-year-old chief engineer Ann Yun-seok and six other miners entered the tunnel, an “expected huge collapse” occurred.
“This is a great catastrophe seen for the first time since the mine was developed,” Rodong reported. “The damage was beyond imagination.”
“The amount of mud which was moved from the [collapsed] tunnel during the rescue operation reached [the weight of] dozens of heavy-duty freight trucks. [Everyone] at the mine went to the rescue battle.”
The central tunnel had produced high-quality iron ore since the 200-day mass mobilization campaign, which began on June 1, 2016, and lasted until December 15, Rodong said.
“The area where the mine is located is a limestone zone where there is a number of [limestone] cavities. The cavities can cause a large disruption affected by unpredictable geological effects,” the article reported, quoting Choe Song Joon, the facility’s head of mine engineering and design.
Kim Kyong Nam, who was “miraculously rescued” 10 days after the accident and was the only survivor, talked about his deceased colleagues while “gulping down tears,” according to the report.
Three were trapped in a confined space of 5 square meters as the muddy water rose up to 6 meters, with rocks above their heads which could have fallen at any time.
The muddy waters, which “came up to their chests,” began to recede slowly, three days after the collapse.
“There was no water to drink and nothing to eat. We were out of breath as the air was thin. No one could figure out how many days we could endure in such a terrible condition,” Rodong Sinmun reported, quoting Kim’s testimony. “But they believed their comrades would fight a desperate battle to save them…”
Location of the Unryul Mine in South Hwanghae Province I Source: Google Maps
“As the air became thinner, they were out of breath although they made a few remarks, but they couldn’t freely chat to each other,” Kim told Rodong Sinmun. “What was more frightening is a spiritual collapse than the destruction of a body at this time. They held each other’s hands firmly in the darkness.”
Jang passed away seven days after the mining accident. Kim said he and Ann were “sitting all day hugging the corpse tightly” after Ann covered Jang’s body with his clothes.
“Tell my wife to bring up our children well as faithful daughters of the Party… I miss everyone!…,” Jang reportedly told Kim and Ann before his death.
Four miners were trapped elsewhere and died at an undisclosed time.
Kim and Ann became aware that a rescue operation was underway when they heard the sounds of hammering and blasts. They became delirious and hit the walls of the tunnel, using stones to inform rescuers of their existence, but Ann died soon before they were rescued.
Rodong Sinmun reported that seven of the mine workers could have survived if they had rushed to the outside of the tunnel, but said the men didn’t leave their workplace as “the anxiety of the crisis that the tunnel and the [damage] the production would face come to their mind first.”
North Korean state-run media outlets rarely report on accidents that have taken place within the country and, when they do, few specifics are given.
Marine accidents, too, were reported to have occurred during the intensive labor campaigns last year.
During the 200-day mass mobilization campaign, six North Korean fishermen were found dead in November aboard a ship stranded off the North’s west coast in November, Rodong Sinmun reported a month after the accident.
On March 9, eight fishermen of Fishing Boat 1728 of the Second Fleet of the Kamapho Fishery Station died in the Yellow Sea during the 70-day campaign in the lead up to the Seventh Party Congress in May.
Featured Image: Uriminzokkiri
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