An explosion in Siberian coal mine kills at least 52 miners and rescuers
An explosion in a Siberian coal mine Thursday left 52 miners and rescuers dead about 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 then were forced to halt the search for 38 others because of a buildup of methane and carbon monoxide gas from the fire. An additional 239 people were rescued.
Emergency officials said there was no chance of finding any more survivors in the Listvyazhnaya mine, in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia, according to the state Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies.
A representative of the regional administration said the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Interfax news agency.
It was the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.
A total of 285 people were in the Listvyazhnaya mine early Thursday when the blast sent smoke that quickly filled the mine through the ventilation system. Rescuers led to the surface 239 miners, 49 of whom were injured, and found 11 bodies.
Later in the day, six rescuers died while searching for others trapped in a remote section of the mine, news reports said.
Regional officials declared three days of mourning.
Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Dmitry Demeshin told reporters that the fire most likely resulted from a methane explosion caused by a spark.
The survivors described their shock after reaching the surface.
“Impact. Air. Dust. And then we smelled gas and just started walking out, as many as we could,” one of the miners, Sergey Golubin, said in televised remarks. “We didn’t even realize what happened at first and took some gas in.”
Another miner, Rustam Chebelkov, recalled the dramatic moment when he was rescued along with his comrades as chaos engulfed the mine.
“I was crawling, and then I felt them grabbing me,” he said. “I reached my arms out to them, they couldn’t see me, the visibility was bad. They grabbed me and pulled me out. If not for them, we’d be dead.”
Explosions of methane released from coal beds during mining are rare, but they cause the most fatalities in the coal mining industry.
Interfax reported that miners have oxygen supplies normally lasting for six hours that could be stretched only for a few more hours.
The federal Investigative Committee has launched a criminal inquiry into the fire over violations of safety regulations that led to deaths. It said the mine director and two senior managers were detained.
President Vladimir Putin extended his condolences to the families of the dead and ordered the government to offer all necessary assistance to those injured.
Thursday’s fire wasn’t the first deadly accident at the Listvyazhnaya mine. In 2004, a methane explosion left 13 miners dead.
In 2007, a methane explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine in Kemerovo killed 110 miners in the deadliest mine accident since Soviet times.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane explosions in a coal mine in Russia’s far north. In the wake of that incident, authorities analyzed the safety of the country’s 58 coal mines and declared 20 of them, or 34%, potentially unsafe.
The Listvyazhnaya mine wasn’t on that list at the time, according to media reports.
Russia’s state technology and ecology watchdog, Rostekhnadzor, inspected the mine in April and registered 139 violations, including breaching fire safety regulations.
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