At least three people are trapped and believed dead after an explosion ripped through an illegal coastal gold mine in the Philippines, the government said Thursday.
Dynamite used to extract ore damaged a mine shaft in the gold-rush town of Paracale on Tuesday causing seawater to pour in to the pit, said Leo Jasareno, head of the government's Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
Investigators said at least three miners are trapped in the underground tunnels in the town, which lies 190 kilometres (118 miles) east of the capital Manila, and there are fears that more may be missing.
"There is a report by a miner who claimed to be a survivor. He said he had 11 companions still underground," Jasareno told AFP.
The mining board, the local government, police and a large mining company operating nearby are taking part in a rescue effort, but Jasareno said they were not optimistic.
"The prospects are dim, considering the vertical openings are flooded. The underground working area is full of water," he said.
Regional civil defence chief Rafael Alejandro said local authorities were unsure how many people were still inside.
"They (the local government) initially reported three trapped victims but we are now hearing different numbers," he said, declining to elaborate.
Jasareno estimated 20,000 people are involved in prospecting in Paracale, which is one of the estimated 300,000 small-scale, illegal mines operating in the country that ignore rules on permits, safety and environmental standards.
"They have no permits, they are not bound by rules, they just throw their waste anywhere," Jasareno said.
However such mines are often tolerated by local governments because they provide jobs to local residents, he added.
The environment department has estimated that 70 percent of all the gold produced in the Philippines comes from illegal mines, dwarfing the output of the legally operated mining companies.
The government estimates the country has about $840 billion in gold, copper, nickel and other metals. But legal mining companies have been unable to tap much of this due to government regulations and a strong anti-mining lobby.