Peru says rescue of 9 trapped miners imminent

ICA, Peru Tue Apr 10, 2012 7:12pm EDT

1 of 4. Rescue team members inspect the mine where nine miners are trapped at Cabeza de Negro gold-and-copper mine in Ica April 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mariana Bazo

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ICA, Peru (Reuters) - Rescuers were closing in on nine workers trapped inside a wildcat mine in southern Peru on Tuesday and officials said they could be pulled to the surface within hours after spending five days underground.

The men have been stuck about 656 feet below ground since the Cabeza de Negro gold-and-copper mine partially collapsed on Thursday. They have been receiving oxygen and liquids through a giant hose in place since before the accident.

"We have a couple of meters (feet) left to go," Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino told reporters at the site monitoring the digging operation. "We've advanced six meters (19.5 feet) in a tunnel that's eight meters (26 feet) long."

The cave-in spurred calls to formalize Peru's vast informal mining sector, which generates as much as $2 billion a year in income, according to private estimates.

(Reporting by Mariana Bazo and Alfredo Loayza; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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