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Methane explosions in Russian coal mine kill 36; cause disputed

Methane explosions in Russian coal mine kill 36; cause disputed
A frame grab taken from footage released on Feb. 25, 2016, by the Komi branch of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry shows mine rescuers at the Severnaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Russia. (Russian Emergency Ministry Press / European Pressphoto Agency)

Three explosions of methane gas at a faulty coal mine in an Arctic Russian town have killed 36 people, including five rescuers, officials and families said Sunday.

Two blasts tore through the Severnaya mine in the Komi region late Thursday, killing four miners and leaving another 26 trapped deep underground, Russia's Emergencies Ministry said.

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Another explosion killed five rescuers and one miner early Sunday as they were digging through the rubble to install insulated blocks with a gas that would help to quell the fire that is still raging in the mine, the Emergencies Ministry said.

Russia's deputy prime minister said the 26 miners are presumed dead because of high levels of carbon monoxide and methane in the mine.

"We don't have any hope that the 26 people left in the mine are still alive," Arkady Dvorkovich said in televised remarks adding that their families will get a million rubles ($13,300) each.

A handout picture released by the Vorkutaugol press service on Feb. 26, 2016, shows rescue workers at the Severnaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Russia.
A handout picture released by the Vorkutaugol press service on Feb. 26, 2016, shows rescue workers at the Severnaya coal mine in Vorkuta, Russia. (Vorkutaugol press service / Handout / European Pressphoto Agency)

In addition to those dead and missing, nine other miners were injured, and a total of 80 people were rescued from the mine, the Emergencies Ministry said.

The government agency that oversees mine safety, Rostekhnadzor, said that the initial explosions had "natural causes."

However, relatives of the dead miners insisted that the agency was aware of high levels of methane that could trigger an explosion.

The mine's managers forced miners to block gas detectors to avoid emergency signals, the daughter of one victim charged.

"They covered them with shirts, buried the detectors," Darya Tryasukho told the independent Dojd television channel. The detectors "showed there would be trouble."

The mine may have to be flooded to prevent the fire from spreading, Denis Paykin, director of the Vorkuta coal company, was quoted by regional media as saying Sunday.

Vorkuta, one of Russia's largest towns above the Arctic Circle, has large coal deposits that have been developed since the 1930s, partially by prisoners of Stalinist-era gulags.

Mirovalev is a special correspondent

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