In a desparate effort to free nine miners who have been trapped in an informal copper mine, Peru’s government is asking local mining companies for heavy equipment and experts to free the men who have been stuck underground for the past four days.

Several dozen rescue workers have been using pickaxes and shovels to try to remove the 26 feet of collapsed earth and rock blocking the entrance of the mine, whose horizontal shaft is dug into a mountainside 175 miles southeast of Lima.

While local firefighters have fashioned wooden beams to support the debris removal, Mining Minister Jorge Merino believes these crude efforts will not be enough.

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The collapse on Thursday occurred following a blast set-off by the miners themselves. The informal mine was last used commercially in the 1980s.

Through a hose, rescuers have been able to communicate with the trapped miners and provide them with liquid sustenance.  The local police chief, José Saavedra, told The Associated Press that already several tons of earth and rock have been removed from the tunnel's entrance.

Officials worry, however, that while no one appears to be injured those trapped could still suffer from exposure to the elements.

"They're being subjected to a lot of cold. The temperature is low because of the humidity," said Prime Minister Oscar Valdés.

Valdés told the reporters he estimated the miners would be freed in two to three days and that he had spoken to the men.

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On Sunday, fellow miners from two nearby mines arrived to help in the effort.

The appearance of Valdés and Merino at the Cabeza de Negro mine, located 4,400 feet above sea level,  highlighted what some consider the government's lack of preparation for such an accident.

Peru "doesn't have a specialize team for mining rescues," said José de Echave, a former deputy environment minister.

The industry is crucial to Peru's economy, accounting for more than 60 percent of its exports. Following Chile, Peru is the world's No. 2 copper exporter and ranks sixth in gold exports.

According to official figures, 52 miners died in Peru last year in work-related accidents, a third of them in mine shaft collapses.

Based on Reporting by Franklin Briceño of the Associated Press  

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