Residents in the mountainous region of Bong Mieu have never named their homeland’s hills. Over a century has gone by since the French called the hills brief, short and very industrial names like AM, AD1, AD2 and ADZ, where Pits No. 5, 6, 7 and 10 are located.
Several people are trying to earn their living in these old pits. They explode parts of the stone pillars, meant to support the hollow pits, to find gold that has been left behind.
Pit No.7, located in Hill AD1 in the precinct of the Bong Mieu Gold Mining Plant in Phu Ninh District is the oldest and deepest one in the area, as well as the closest to town.
Tran Van Quang, the plant’s watchman, said that roaring explosions have sent all of the birds and animals that lived on the hill away. It looks empty outside, but inside the pit there are hundreds of gold miners operating.
The entrance to the main tunnel of the pit was covered with a three-meter thick circle-shaped concrete block. However, local residents have pierced a small hole in it, which a person can pass through to enter the tunnel.
“In peak time, up to 200 people per day passed through that small hole and brought machines and food to dig for gold in long-term,” Quang said. The gold digging spots are located at least five kilomters from the tunnel entrance, where the dynamite explosions sound like a small stone being thrown into a deep well.
Gold miner Nguyen Van Son said that what they fear most is hearing the cracking noise of stone, which means that the pit could fall down at any time.
“Once while digging in Pit No.1 near Peric Hill two years ago, I heard the cracking of stone, which sounded like someone tearing a cloth. Some small stones fell down on my shoulder. Right after that over 70 miners rushed out of the pit, and then Peric Hill toppled over,” he recalled.
Vo Van Hung, security supervisor at Hill AD1, says the miners’ skill in using explosives is at a ‘super’ level. After exploiting the pits, investors closed the pits’ entrances with iron doors and big locks. However, the gold miners glued plastic dynamite on the locks to explode them while leaving the doors undamaged.
They entered the pits to dig and plant explosives right on the stone pillars, which have been set up to support the hollow pits, to look for gold.
During his more than 20 years of living in Bong Mieu Gold Mine, Hung has witnessed several heart-breaking deaths in the deep pits. He talked about the latest case at Thac Trang, where a man named Tan was buried under a collapsed tunnel. It took several hours to get his body out.
All miners are experienced dynamite users, who know how to explode a sufficient part of the stone pillar to prevent it from collapsing.
Nguyen Van Son says the quantity of dynamite used is determined by the size of the stone pillar. The miners drill a hole into the stone pillar to stuff a few hectograms of dynamite into it. They then dig a nearby shelter-pit to hide in, turn their back on the dynamite, and shut their ears right after igniting the fuse.
The biggest concern is that they are not aware of another group mining nearby. In the tunnel where Son’s group of seven diggers was mining, about 7-10 other groups were also exploding stone pillars for themselves, he said.
There was one afternoon when the hill was violently shaken by over 15 explosions. Sometimes, they clashed with other explosions caused by gold mining plants, which use up to a hundred of kilograms of dynamite each time.
According to Le Hoai Nam, deputy head of the Police Department in Phu Ninh District, officers have tried to crack down on illegal gold mining in the Bong Mieu Gold Mine. However, it is too hazardous for their officials to enter the tunnels, which are long and vulnerable to a collapse. They have tried another way, tasking officials to cut off food supply routes to the gold miners. This has proved tough though, as they manage to travel on several different mountain roads.