Russia coal mine blasts kill 32, 58 still trapped

Russia coal mine blasts kill 32, 58 still trapped
# 11 May 2010 04:53 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Death toll from weekend coal mine blast rises, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
Rescue workers raced to save 58 people trapped inside Russia’s largest coal mine on Monday as the death toll from twin underground explosions rose to 32.
More than 350 miners were underground when explosions hit Raspadskaya, a coal mine 3,000 km (1,850 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region of Siberia, over the weekend. Nearly 300 of them managed to escape.
"A tragedy happened at Raspadskaya. As a result of a blast people have died. The rescue operation is underway now," President Dmitry Medvedev told a government meeting.
"I would like to pass the words of sincere condolences to the relatives and the loved ones of those who died," added a sombre-looking Medvedev.
The death toll makes the disaster the deadliest in a Russian mine since May 2007, when 39 died as a result of a methane explosion at Yubileynaya mine, also located in Kemerovo.
Aman Tuleyev, governor of Kemerovo region, said time was now running out to rescue those trapped in areas of the mine where anti-flooding systems had failed.
"God willing, they are still alive," he said in remarks shown on Russian television. "That possibility still exists, but ... we only have 48 hours until it floods."
At Raspadskaya, the country’s biggest underground mine, rising flood waters were complicating the efforts of more than 500 people involved in rescue work on Monday, officials said.
Dozens of relatives gathered in a building nearby, many hugging each other and some crying as they waited for news.
Her voice breaking, one woman, Alexandra Onishchenko, said she was beginning to lose hope that her son was still alive.
"What grounds (for hope) do we have?" she told Rossiya-24 television. "They could have pulled them out in the four hours before the (second) blast."
Russian news agencies quoted Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying that a sudden burst of methane and coal dust could have caused the disaster.
The first explosion rocked the mine just before midnight (1700 GMT) on Saturday. Nineteen rescuers were themselves trapped after a second blast four hours later reduced several buildings to smouldering ruins and forced a halt to rescue work.
"We felt the wave: dust, gas and hot air," one unnamed miner told Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station. "We were blocked from both sides but we got out through the emergency exit."
The bodies of 17 rescuers were found after a fall in methane levels allowed colleagues to re-enter the mine. Sixty-five were injured, the Emergencies Ministry said.
A criminal investigation has been opened into possible safety violations, the Prosecutor General’s Office said.
One unidentified coal miner told state-run RIA Novosti news agency that he thought many of his colleagues would quit after the accident. "But I myself have just returned from the army, where will I go? I will continue to work here," he said.
Rescuers restored electricity to the ventilation system, but faced the threat that higher levels of oxygen in the mine would increase the risk of another explosion, Shoigu said.
The mine had reserves of some 450 million tonnes of coal and produced 8.9 million tonnes in 2007, according to the Raspadskaya company. Raspadskaya (RASP.MM) is part-owned by steel-and-mining firm Evraz Group (HK1q.L).
Mine explosions and other industrial accidents have prompted repeated calls from Russia’s leaders for improvements to creaking infrastructure and stricter adherence to safety rules. Kremlin critics say little has been done.