State in a spot as miner still trapped in Siaya

Residents try to rescue miners trapped in the Asembo mines.

It is emerging that the goldmine that collapsed in Siaya County close to two weeks ago trapping several miners was operating illegally, even as the national government was accused of neglecting the victims and their families.

On Monday, local leaders accused the government of refusing to support efforts to save Tom Okwach who is still trapped in the mine at Abimbo village in Bondo sub-county.

Mining has not been devolved and that is why Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga, who led the calls for the national government to join the rescue efforts, accused authorities in Nairobi of neglecting the miners.

The National Environmental Management Authority distanced itself from the operations at the site in which six out of eight miners trapped on December 2 were rescued alive, saying it had not been licensed for mining activities. One of the miners was found dead.

"These are small-scale miners and therefore not recognised by the Ministry of Mining," said the authority's county director William Opiyo.

Okwach's family has been spending sleepless nights at the site hoping he would be rescued alive even as the government remained mum over the operation.

Residents, with the help of a county government bulldozer, have been working day and night in their efforts to save Okwach even as the clock continues to tick away.

Rasanga took issue with the national government accusing it of failing to respond to their calls for assistance.

"The national government should have sent the military to rescue the miners because they have been trained to handle such cases. In the meantime, we are trying the best we can as a county government," said Rasanga.

He said the search for survivors has been agonising to the rescue team as well because they are facing various challenges due to limited equipment and expertise.

He said the response was also delayed due to bad weather which has made the operation risky for the rescue team as well.

"It is has been raining and this has made it difficult for the rescue team. They have to be careful so that the soil doesn't collapse on them," the governor said.

He wants the national government to devolve some roles in the mining sector to counties and enhance their capacities to rescue victims in case of such incidents.

"The Mining Act should be amended so that we are included in the management of the artisanal mining," said Rasanga.

On Monday, the family of Okwach who has been trapped inside the collapsed mine for the last 12 days, claimed that they have been neglected.

His mother, Joyce Ogunde, lamented that the rescue operation has slowed down yet her son is yet to be found.

Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda said they have been asking the national government to help with the rescue operations to no avail.

Meanwhile, County Gold Miners chairman Odhiambo Odari has said they will not be able to pay for the excavators that were brought on site. But at the weekend, the local county government said it would cater for the costs of the rescue operation.

[Isaiah Gwengi, Olivia Odhiambo and Grace Ng'ang'a]