Informal gold mines are common in some African countries

About 60 people have died after an explosion at a makeshift gold mine in a village in south-west Burkina Faso, local officials say.

The blast happened in a market at the gold-mining site when dynamite stored there caught fire, witnesses said.

“There were bodies strewn everywhere. It was an explosion that managed to uproot trees and bring down houses,” a judicial source told Reuters.

Dozens of injured people have been evacuated to the nearest hospital.

It is thought women and children are among the casualties, the AFP news agency reports.

An investigation was opened into Monday’s incident, after the regional prosecutor visited the scene.

One person has been arrested, and is being held for questioning.

The goldmine has since been closed until further notice, according to Burkina Faso’s news agency, AIB.

The explosion has been described as destroying “everything on its path,” according to a local news reporter from RTB TV.

Many of the miners at the site are displaced people from elsewhere in the country, local leader Sansan Urbain Kambou told Reuters.

Burkina Faso is one of Africa’s biggest gold producers, with many mines run by international firms, as well as informal ones without any oversite or regulation.

BBC West Africa correspondent Nicolas Negoce says that since 2009, gold has become Burkina Faso’s leading export, overtaking cotton.

In 2020, the country produced 54 tonnes of gold, compared to 45 tonnes in 2019, an increase of 20%, according to the ministry in charge of mines and quarries.

Deadly accidents such as roof collapses frequently happen at informal mines in many African countries.

Last month, at least 13 people were killed in a huge blast in neighbouring Ghana after a truck carrying explosives to a gold mine collided with a motorbike.