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Nine People Trapped After South Africa Gold Mine Rockfall, Fire

A fire and rockfall in a deep South African gold mine have trapped nine people more than a mile underground, officials said Wednesday.

Eight others who were working on the same level of the Doornkop mine near Johannesburg were able to get to a refuge bay and are now recovering in ahospital, said James Duncan, spokesman for South African mine operator Harmony Gold.

Duncan told NBC News that rescue teams from six other mines have been working around the clock since the alarm at 6 p.m. Tuesday (11 a.m. ET) -- but by noon local time (5 a.m. ET) Wednesday they had still not received word from the nine people trapped 1,700 meters below the surface.

He said officials do not yet know the cause of the fire and the rockfall. He said the fire appeared to be subsiding earlier Wednesday but described the conditions faced by men fighting the blaze and shifting rock underground as "arduous."

"These people will continue working in shifts 24/7 until there is a resolution," he said.

Doornkop employs 3,800 workers but Duncan said there were just 140 people in the mine at the time of the incident as it happened on the late shift.

Statistics on the Harmony Gold website said there were two deaths at Doornkop in 2012 and none in 2011 and 2013.

South Africa is home to the world's deepest goldmines. According to a report by Reuters, some 82 men, thought to have been illegal miners, died after an underground fire at a Harmony mine in 2009. Most of the victims are believed to have died of suffocation.

Reuters contributed to this report.