The race to reach eight workers trapped in a flooded, Canadian-owned zinc mine in West Africa is making progress.
Trevali Mining Corp. says access to its Perkoa Mine in Burkina Faso is improving after more than 32 million litres of water were pumped out of the shaft.
Workers became trapped more than 500 metres below the surface on April 16, after heavy rain caused flash flooding which breached two embankments outside the mine, said Trevali in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday.
Sixteen other workers underground at the time were able to escape.
With no communication since then, it’s not known if the eight men survived the deluge but authorities in Burkina Faso say there is a chance they could have made it to a refuge chamber containing food and supplies.
Families of the trapped men are using their faith to give them hope.
“May God protect us. May he bring out our husbands, our sons and our children alive,” said Sylvia Bakoala, a spokesperson for the families of the missing, in one of many video updates from the government.
The Burkina Faso government thanked the international community and other, nearby mining companies for their donations of time and equipment.
“This mobilization goes beyond our borders,” said Jean Alphones Some, the minister of mines and quarries. “This allows us to maintain this hope.”
Trevali, which is headquartered in Vancouver, has faced heavy criticism for its response to the emergency, and questions about its on-site safety.
Earlier this month members of its management team were barred from leaving the country while a judicial investigation takes place.
Trevali says it’s also investigating and will abide by the government’s requests.
“We understand that the government’s concerns are to ensure that relevant personnel be present and available to meet with those in the government who are investigating the flooding event,” said Jason Mercier, a spokesperson for Trevali.
“The search efforts continue to be led by our senior-most local team.”
Industry watchdogs have also been disappointed with the company’s apparent lack of capacity to respond to the flooding.
Heavy machinery and pumping equipment had to be imported from other African nations like Ghana and South Africa, according to both the company and the Burkina Faso Government.
Local authorities also passed a list of resources it needed to the EU to speed up the search operation, according to the Information Service of the Government of Burkina Faso.
Global Affairs Canada says it’s aware of the situation and is in contact with local authorities.