A devastating explosion in a Siberian coal mine On Thursday, 52 miners and rescue workers lost their lives about 250 meters (820 feet) underground, Russian officials said.
Hours after a methane gas explosion and fire filled the mine with toxic fumes, rescuers found 14 bodies but were then forced to stop the search for 38 others due to a buildup of methane and carbon monoxide gas from the blaze. Another 239 people were rescued.
State news agencies Tass and RIA-Novosti quoted emergency officials as saying there was no chance of finding any more survivors at the Listvyazhnaya mine, in southwestern Siberia’s Kemerovo region.
The Interfax news agency quoted a regional government representative who also estimated the death toll from Thursday’s accident at 52, saying they died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It was the deadliest mining accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region of Kemerovo.
A total of 285 people were inside the Listvyazhnaya mine early Thursday when the blast released smoke that quickly filled the mine through the ventilation system. Rescuers brought 239 miners to the surface, 49 of whom were injured, and found 11 bodies.
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Later in the day, six rescuers also died while searching for others trapped in a remote part of the mine, according to news reports.
Regional officials have declared three days of mourning.
Russian Deputy Attorney General Dmitry Demeshin told reporters that the fire was most likely the result of a methane explosion caused by a spark.
The miners who survived described their shock after reaching the surface.
“Consequence. Air. Dust. And then we smelled gas and walked out as much as we could,” one of the rescued miners, Sergey Golubin, said in television comments. “We didn’t even realize what was happening at first and took some gas inside.”
Another miner, Rustam Chebelkov, recalled the dramatic moment when he and his comrades were rescued as chaos engulfed the mine.
“I crawled and then I felt them grab me,” he said. “I held out my arms to them, they couldn’t see me, the visibility was bad. They grabbed me and pulled me out or we would have been dead.”
Explosions of methane released from coal seams during mining are rare, but cause the most deaths in the mining industry.
The Interfax news agency reported that miners have oxygen supplies that normally last for six hours, but can only be extended for a few hours.
The Russian Commission of Inquiry has launched a criminal investigation into the fire for violation of safety regulations that resulted in deaths. It said the mine director and two senior managers were detained.
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President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the dead and ordered the government to provide all necessary assistance to the injured.
Thursday’s fire was not the first fatal accident at the Listvyazhnaya mine. 13 miners were killed in a methane explosion in 2004.
In 2007, a methane explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine in the Kemerovo region killed 110 miners in the deadliest mining accident since Soviet times.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane explosions at a coal mine in Russia’s far north. After the incident, authorities analyzed the safety of the country’s 58 coal mines and declared 20 of them, or 34%, to be potentially unsafe.
The Listvyazhnaya mine was not there at the time, according to media reports.
Russia’s technology and ecology watchdog, Rostekhnadzor, inspected the mine in April and recorded 139 violations, including violating fire safety regulations.
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