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Open-pit gold mine collapses in Venezuela, and dozens of people are feared dead

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La Paragua, Venezuela -

An illegally operated open-pit gold mine collapsed in central Venezuela while dozens of people were working there, leaving an undetermined number dead or trapped, officials said Wednesday as relatives demanded swift rescue efforts.

The accident took place in the Angostura municipality on Tuesday, when a wall collapsed at a mine known as Bulla Loca, which can only be reached by an hours-long boat ride. Officials did not yet have a full tally of those killed, trapped or injured, Venezuela’s Ministry of Communication and Information said Wednesday.

Angostura Mayor Yorgi Arciniega said late Tuesday that he planned to take “some 30 caskets” to a community near the mine, indicating that officials feared the death toll could rise into the dozens.

Relatives of the miners gathered in La Paragua, the closest community to the mine, to ask the government to send aircraft to the remote location to rescue the injured and recover bodies.

“We are here waiting, please, for the government to support us with helicopters, planes, anything,” said Karina Ríos, whose daughter's father was trapped in the collapse. “There are quite a few dead, there are people wounded. Why don’t they give us support, where are they?”

Ríos said she is worried that bodies could quickly decompose because of the area's conditions.

Venezuela's government in 2016 established a huge mining development zone stretching across the middle of the country, to add new revenues alongside its oil industry. Since then, mining operations for gold, diamonds, copper and other minerals have proliferated within and outside that zone.

Many mines operate outside or on the margins of the law. They offer lucrative jobs for ordinary Venezuelans, but conditions are brutal.

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