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Bad weather and broken generator stall bid to rescue Peru miners

LIMA (Reuters) - Heavy rain and equipment failure stalled efforts in Peru on Thursday to rescue seven miners who were trapped in a tunnel hundreds of feet under a landslide three days ago, officials said.

Four of the miners may already be dead, according to a miner who escaped on Tuesday, a day after the small copper deposit mined in the southern region of Arequipa was engulfed.

The breakdown of a generator used to power machinery clearing a path to the entrance of the 200-meter-deep tunnel (660 feet) stoked fears that time was running out to find the men alive.

Sounds coming from one of the miners stopped late on Wednesday, said regional mining official Vladimir Bustinza. "That's not a good sign," Bustinza told local broadcaster RPP.

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The miner who escaped said he believed three of his seven colleagues were alive when he got out, according to regional health official Gustavo Rondon.

Rescue efforts at the mine in the Acari district did not begin until early on Wednesday when word of the landslide reached emergency responders.

Attempts to reach the miners were then slowed by debris from landslides that blocked roads and a torrential downpour that delayed a helicopter carrying supplies by several hours.

Brigadiers and underground mining experts sent by Peruvian precious metals miner Buenaventura eventually joined a small rescue team that was initially made up of volunteer firefighters from a nearby province.

Meliton Huaraca, the father of one of the trapped miners, urged President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to send more help.

"We want to take them home, dead or alive," Huaraca told local TV station Canal N. "I want to see my son again, please Mr. President."

Kuczynski's government said new electrical generators and pumps for sucking up mud were on their way.

The mine, which mainly extracts copper, belongs to local company Chinchilico Minero SAC, one of tens of thousands of largely unregulated mining operations in Peru that are trying to formalize their businesses, the Energy and Mines Ministry said.

Chinchilico, which is also the name for a frightening Andean mythological creature that inhabits underground mines, could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)

 
 
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