Rescue workers have managed to pull the first known survivor out of an open-pit copper mine in Zambia after a mudslide trapped at least 38 people on 1 December.

The workers were buried in three separate tunnels while digging for copper ore at the Seseli site without a permit. Zambian Government officials said they could not confirm the exact number of men trapped under the landslides.

Initial police reports released last week said that all the trapped miners were thought to have died, but the recovery of one survivor has injected fresh hope into rescue efforts. Two bodies were also pulled from the site.

A 49-year-old man was rescued on Tuesday night and is currently being treated in hospital, according to a statement by Zambia’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit. Zambia’s President, Hakainda Hichilema, has said he remains hopeful that the rest of the miners are still alive.

The mine, which is situated approximately 400km north-west of Lusaka in Chingola, was previously owned by Zambian-based Vedanta’s Konkola Copper Mines but was recently sold to a local company. Official operations had yet to begin at the site because it is still waiting for environmental and safety approvals. The current operator of the mine said it was not aware that miners were digging for copper in the site’s tunnels illegally.

Rescue efforts are ongoing, although they are being significantly slowed by dangerous conditions on the still soft and unpredictable ground surrounding and covering the mine, made even worse by ongoing heavy rain. The army has also been brought in to help recover survivors.

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By GlobalData

Illegal, or ‘artisanal’, mining is common in Chingola and on the African continent more broadly. Opencast mines are more easily accessible from the surface, making it easier for people to enter sites and mine for ore.

Zambia is the eighth-biggest copper producer in the world, according to data from Mining Technology’s parent company GlobalData, and accounts for 4% of total global production of the critical metal.