Warsaw: Rescuers were searching on Wednesday for five missing miners after an earth tremor caused rockfalls deep underground in a copper mine in southwestern Poland, killing three, the mine`s operator KGHM said.
The tremor hit the Rudna copper mine at 2009 GMT on Tuesday, KGHM said, causing extensive damage.
Sections of tunnels hundreds of metres below the surface were blocked by rocks, preventing access to the missing miners, company officials said.
"Unfortunately at this moment we have three casualties and still five people underground whom we are trying to reach," director of the mine, Pawel Markowski, told a news conference.
He said rescuers could see one missing miner, but could not say if he was alive.
"He is under a huge block of rock weighing several dozen tonnes," Markowski said.
He added that three of the missing miners could be inside a collapsed machinery chamber.
KGHM said the Rudna mine, the largest copper mine in Europe and in operation since 1974, has 11 shafts reaching as deep as 1244 metres below the surface.
Chief Executive Radoslaw Domagalski-Labedzki said earlier two of the miners killed were aged 33 and 47 years and their families had already been informed. One of these miners died after he was taken to the surface, the company said.
"We are all shocked by the scale of this tragedy which took place in a place we assessed was exposed to a moderate level of risk," Domagalski-Labedzki told reporters.
`WITHOUT A PAUSE`
Domagalski-Labedzki also said nine people working in the mine suffered spinal and head injuries and five were still in hospital.
"The rescue operation is taking place without a pause," Domagalski-Labedzki told reporters.
"We all have big hopes that the news will be positive. This does not change the fact that the rescue operation is taking place in difficult conditions," he said before rescuers confirmed the third casualty.
The epicentre of the tremor was situated 1,500 metres below the surface and had a magnitude of 3.4, state news agency PAP reported.
Officials at KGHM said some of the underground tunnels still blocked by debris were eight metres wide and four metres high.
Tremors often occur in underground mines as removing ore and digging tunnels from beneath the surface weakens the structure of the surrounding rocks but most are harmless.
Government spokesman Rafal Bochenek said Prime Minister Beata Szydlo was heading to the mine on Wednesday.