By Jorge Cabrera
SAN JUAN ARRIBA, Honduras, July 3 (Reuters) - Rescuers labored with pickaxes and shovels to dig out 11 miners trapped by a landslide at a small gold mine in southern Honduras, and are close to reaching three of the workers, officials said on Thursday.
The workers were trapped when the entrance of the mine in San Juan Arriba, 110 km (70 miles) south of the capital Tegucigalpa, collapsed on Wednesday.
Firefighters said they had made contact with three of the workers, though eight are still missing.
"They are slowly advancing. They are very close to three of the 11 workers trapped, and maybe they will get to them in the coming hours," Moises Alvarado, a senior emergency services official in the region told local radio.
The collapse occurred in a drought-stricken region of Honduras that had been a gold mining center for Spanish colonists. The rise in gold prices in recent years had spurred dozens of small mines to open in the area.
Alvarado said many of the mines did not meet the most basic safety requirements and that there were no maps of the , which was making the rescue operation harder.
"With the three miners we've located, we have auditory contact. They are banging their picks and shovels and yelling," said Lieutenant Manuel de Jesus Reyes, a firefighter in the nearby city of Choluteca. "It seems like less noise today, but we keep working to get to them and save their lives." (Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Alden Bentley)