At least 3 dead, dozens feared buried in landslide at illegal gold mine in Indonesia

Indonesia's disaster agency said on Wednesday rescuers were searching for survivors after more than 60 people were feared buried by the collapse of an illegal gold mine on the island of Sulawesi.

Rescuers have pulled 15 people out alive and can hear more voices from under the mud

Rescue workers carry a body bag containing a victim following the collapse of an illegal gold mine at Bolaang Mongondow regency in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. ( Antara Foto/Humas Basarnas/Reuters)

Indonesian officials said on Wednesday dozens of rescuers were using spades and ropes to dig out more than 60 people who were feared buried by the collapse of an illegal gold mine on the island of Sulawesi that killed at least three.

Rescuers said they could hear the voices of some of those trapped in makeshift mining shafts in a muddy hillside in the Bolaang Mongondow area of North Sulawesi province and believed many were still alive.

"We are able to detect that many of them are still alive because we can hear their voices, as there are some places where air is getting in and out and there are gaps in the mud," Abdul Muin Paputungan of Indonesia's disaster agency told Reuters by phone.

At least three bodies had been found and 15 people rescued by 8 a.m on Wednesday local time after the mine collapsed the previous evening, according to the disaster mitigation agency and media reports.

Rescue workers carry a victim during the evacuation process. (Antara Foto/Humas Basarnas/Reuters)

"When dozens of people were mining for gold at the location, suddenly beams and supporting boards they used broke due to unstable land and numerous mining shafts," disaster agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

Photos released by the agency showed rescue workers and villagers on a muddy hillside at night, scrambling to pull out survivors and carry them away on stretchers.

The Indonesian government has banned such small-scale gold mining, although regional authorities often turn a blind eye to the practice in more remote areas. With little regulation, the mines are prone to accidents.

Search-and-rescue teams and military officers were working together but using simple tools such as spades and rope because conditions remained dangerous, with the land still prone to shifting and sliding, Paputungan said.

He said the families of victims had started gathering at the mine site to wait for news.