Casualties in the Battlefields mine disaster near Kadoma could rise to 50 from the initial 23 reported yesterday, amid indications that more bodies could have been washed down shafts and tunnels that were flooded on Tuesday night.
Various mining companies from Mashonaland West Province -- including Zimplats, RioZim and small-scale miners -- joined the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) in marshalling water pumping machinery to drain the flooded mines.
The victims are believed to be trapped in seven pits with depths of up to 100 metres and the tunnels have to be cleared of water before the recovery of bodies can begin.
Many illegal miners had reportedly entered the shafts at Cricket and Bazter mines on Tuesday night before the mines were flooded after rains that pounded the area.
Deputy chief mines inspector Mr Tapererwa Paskwavaviri said the commencement of the retrieval process depended on the size of pumps available.
"We were able to cover at least seven metres in 15 hours using the four pumps that we got from individual miners with a combined pumping capacity of 55 horsepower. The pumping was at a rate of about 30 cubic metres of water per second," he said.
"That would have taken us about five days to draw water out of the pits but with the coming in of heavy equipment from Zimplats and RioZim, we expect the time to be significantly reduced."
A supervisor at one of the pits at Cricket Mine, Mr Alex Mbudzi, said he recorded 23 people who entered the pit on the fateful night.
He, however, said more illegal miners entered the shafts without permission, raising fears that more people could have perished. Mr Mbudzi ruled out chances of people being found alive.
"There were heavy rains on Tuesday night from around 10pm. However, we did not expect anything bad to happen, but suddenly we found out that water was getting into our cabin while pits were submerged in water," he said.
A worker at Baxter Mine, Mr Enock Madamombe, said he woke up to find himself immersed in water while sleeping in a cabin before he went to higher ground.
"We had not started work, but the four who entered the mine forced their way in. No one managed to come out of the pit.
"We had diverted water so that it does not affect our operations but the water was too powerful and destroyed the barriers we had put up," he said.
Mrs Eunica Zvitiki, whose son Xavier Chitiki was trapped, had lost hope that her son would be found alive.
"I know people are saying there is hope that Xavier would be found alive but from what I am seeing and the level of water I saw, there is little chance of that happening. I am preparing for the worst," she said.