Hopes are slim of finding 66 miners trapped in gemstone pits that flooded in northern Tanzania , a local legislator said on Monday.
Rescue workers have said they found several bodies on Sunday in the privately-owned mine in Mererani, which was flooded on Saturday after a heavy seasonal downpour.
"We are still working to see how to rescue the bodies, because personally, I don't think there's hope of getting them alive," Christopher Ole Sendeka, member of parliament for Simanjiro, told Reuters at the scene, adding that there were 66 people in the mine.
Local media said on Monday that the government banned all mining activity in the area, the only place in the world where the violet-blue gemstone tanzanite is found, until the rescue operation is completed.
A Reuters witness said the scene of the flooded mine smelled of decomposing bodies. Volunteer rescuers complained of lack of basic protective gear like face masks and gloves.
"Yesterday when we went down, we reached a place where we found dead bodies rotting and the situation down there is really bad, our stomachs were swelling because of the smell," Samuel Chacha, a mine worker, told Reuters.
"We need help; there is no help here at all."
Ole Sendeka said the government was doing its best to bring in equipment and seek more help from a nearby mining company, Afgem.
About 100 people stood at the scene while paramilitary officers patrolled the area.
The government on Sunday put the number of those reported missing in the mine at 59, with 35 rescued and six bodies retrieved from the pits.
Ole Sendeka said there were about 196 people originally in the pits. Local media said the discrepancy in the number of miners arose due to the fact that some miners had failed to register their names before going underground.
Manyara Regional Commissioner Henry Shekifu said President Jakaya Kikwete was due to visit the site later in the day.
Explosions and suffocation are common causes of death in Tanzania's "wild north", where small-scale independent miners dig remote gem fields in search of the violet-blue tanzanite, prized by jewellery-lovers in wealthy nations.
In Tanzania's worst mining disaster, about 70 people were killed in 1998 when heavy rains caused a mine to collapse.
In 2002, at least 48 miners were suffocated when a compressor used to pump clean air into a gemstone mine malfunctioned. (Reuters)
Slim hope for 66 trapped Tanzania miners