Russian coal mine blast kills 78

Russian coal mine blast kills 78

A devastating gas explosion tore through a Siberian coal mine Monday, killing at least 78 miners, Russian officials said, as emergency workers raced to rescue dozens still trapped underground.

“The latest figures we have is 78 killed,” the Kemerovo regional administration’s spokesman Sergei Cheremnov said as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Earlier, emergency ministry officials said that 83 more had been rescued.

She declined to speculate on how many more miners were still trapped underground, but local officials contacted by AFP as well as domestic media reports said there were 200 miners underground when the explosion took place.

Vladimir Berdnikov, head of the Siberia branch of the emergency situations ministry, said rescue work was difficult.

“Work underground is taking place in difficult conditions,” Berdnikov said.

Russian television broadcast footage of convoys of ambulances rushing to the scene and pictures of injured miners covered in coal dust being carried on stretchers into local emergency rooms.

“The main goal now is to rescue as many people as possible. The second priority is to make sure a fire does not break out in the mine,” Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying.

Tuleyev said the explosion had occurred after a rockslide caused methane gas to build up in a section of the mine.

The blast happened at the Ulyanovskaya mine near the town of Novokuznetsk in Kemerovo region, some 3,000 kilometres (2,000 miles) east of Moscow. The huge mine is operated by Yuzhkuzbassugol, an affiliate of Russian metals group Evraz.

Fourteen teams of specialist emergency workers were taking part in the rescue operation and more were expected to arrive from the regional centres of Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk.

Vladimir Putin ordered Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to fly to the scene to oversee the operation.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said authorities would launch an investigation into the accident and that a criminal case had been opened.

“More strict measures on safety are needed in these kinds of dangerous situations,” Fradkov told reporters in Pretoria, RIA Novosti reported.

“Naturally, it is first of all the owners of such enterprises that need to pay more attention to questions of maintenance,” Fradkov said.

The coal industry in Kemerovo, a region in southwest Siberia, has suffered from chronic underfunding since the collapse of the Soviet Union and there have been several accidents there in recent years.

Twenty-three miners were killed by a gas explosion in 2005 in Kemerovo region and two separate mine blasts in the area in 2004 killed a total of 60 miners.

News agencies reported that the 270-metre-deep (900-feet-deep) mine was opened in 2002 and was equipped with modern technology, including gas control systems.

The accident nonetheless was a grim reminder of serious safety concerns facing Russian miners and the weakening of trade unions that in Soviet times could paralyze sectors of the national economy.

Alexander Sergeyev, the chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Miners, said widespread reforms were needed to ensure safety in Russia’s mines.

As well as requiring Russian mines to have state-of-the-art safety equipment, the Russian government should fight against the practice of miners being paid based on production quotas, he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

“Miners often have to work hastily and ignore possible dangers,” if they want to earn reasonable salaries in the mines, he said.

Information from AFp via yahoo News

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