EVANDER, South Africa -- Mine officials said Wednesday 177 bodies had been recovered in an underground gold mine fire that pumped toxic fumes down a mile-long corridor. A black labor leader blamed miner owners for the blaze.
In Durban, a bomb placed in or under a parked car exploded near a hotel Wednesday night, causing damages but no casualties, the Bureau for Information said.
No one claimed immediate responsibility for the explosion, but past bombing attacks in South Africa have been blamed on the African National Congress, fighting to overthrow the white-led government and its apartheid policies of racial discrimination.
Kobus Olivier, manager of the Kinross Gold Mine, 65 miles east of Johannesburg, said 177 dead miners, most of them black, had been recovered 30 hours after an underground fire erupted Tuesday morning. Another five men were 'missing and unaccounted for,' he said.
Olivier said a welding accident ignited plastic pipes, cables and wall-cladding or layers in the horizontal access shaft known as Level 15.
'It is the worst accident I have ever heard of in a South African gold mine,' Olivier said. ave tfound some people dead in groups and others lying on their own along the length of the shaft.'
Olivier said rescue teams were on the scene within an hour and successfully evacuated 2,200 men from the smoke-filled shaft. More than 230 miners were in hospitals Wednesday with lung ailments.
Another mine official said rescue teams were still searching for the missing men, but hopes were dwindling that anyone would be found alive.
'The mine is clear of the toxic smoke that killed so many. If anyone was still alive he could walk out,' he said.
Mining minister Danie Steyn arrived in a military helicopter to inspect the scene of the disaster, the country's worst mining accident since 432 black coal miners were killed in rockfall in 1960.
Black labor leader Cyril Ramaphosa, emerging from a three-hour underground inspection at the mine, told reporters 'this accident could have been avoided.' Ramaphosa, leader of the 500,000-member National Union of Mineworkers, inspected the mine with officials of the General Mining Corporation, which owns the Kinross mine, and said, 'it is a completely unnecessary accident.'
He said it was common practice that welders working underground should have a fire extinguisher alongside them, but this precaution was not taken Tuesday. Ramaphosa was accompanied by lawyers and said the union would insitute legal action against the mine owners, Gencor, for compensation and additional safety measures.
Union safety officer Hazzy Sibanyoni charged that the company was more interested in production than in safety. avMost of the time, they are taking short-cuts,' he said. 'That's why these things happen.'
Company spokesman Harry Hill denied the allegation and said Gencor had the best safety record in the country.
Survivors said the fumes made it difficult and painful to breath.
'Men were lying with blood coming out of their mouths,' said Barbara Tarrin, whose husband Billy survived. 'My husband had to punch his friend in the chest to make him breath again.'
One miner, Komiti Mmereko, told reporters: ave twere trapped. e theld our hands over our mouths and noses. I saw my friends fall down.'
At the gates of the mine, where reporters were held back by security staff, black families arrived in cars and trucks to inquire about their relatives.