At least six people are dead and dozens more are still trapped beneath the rubble of an illegal gold mine that collapsed in Indonesia, officials said Thursday, as rescuers frantically searched for survivors.
Some 19 miners have been plucked to safety since Tuesday night's accident and rescuers have been communicating with some still buried, raising hopes for more survivors.
But with the clock ticking, the rescue effort at the remote site on Indonesia's Sulawesi island was hampered by steep terrain and unstable soil conditions after the collapse triggered a landslide.
Medical personnel were planning to amputate one survivor's leg because it was pinned underneath a large rock, making it impossible to free him without emergency on-site surgery.
"We're racing against time," said local disaster agency official Abdul Muin Paputungan.
"The rescue is ongoing but it's risky... We've heard at least three people asking for help and we're trying to pull them out and supply them with water and food so they can survive."
Rescuers have heavy machinery on standby but so far they have been forced to use spades and even their bare hands to clear away debris, fearing that a wrong move could make the situation worse.
"We've had to limit the number of rescuers because there's been more cracks at the location... so we're afraid if there are too many people it will make things more dangerous," Paputungan said.
Six people have been confirmed dead after the accident, which was caused by the collapse of support beams at the unlicensed site, according to the disaster agency.
More than three dozen people may still be trapped at the mine in the Bolaang Mongondow region of North Sulawesi, where some five miners were killed in December after an illegal gold mine accident.
The mineral-rich Southeast Asian nation has scores of unlicensed mining sites and safety regulations are routinely flouted.
Ground conditions at the mine were unstable due to the large number of holes dug by the miners, officials have said.
In 2016, 11 miners died after a mudslide engulfed an illegal gold mine in Sumatra's Jambi province.
A year earlier, 12 people were killed when a shaft collapsed after they tunnelled into a disused gold mine on Java island.