Sunday, 9 May 2010

Mine blast kills 12 in Siberia

Instead of getting ready to celebrate Victory Day, the mining community of Mezhdurechensk spent May 9 counting the cost of the latest tragedy below the ground.

Two explosions at the Raspadskaya coal mine in Siberia's mineral-rich Kuzbass region left 12 dead, 59 injured and a further 83 people trapped underground.

The first blast happened at 11:55 pm, local time, on Saturday, May 8, following a dangerous build-up of methane gas, RIA Novosti reported.

And a second explosion three hours later left a 19-strong rescue team trapped below the surface and unable to commicate with support staff on the ground, suspending efforts to free more men trapped underground for fear of further casualties.

"The rescue work will continue when the atmosphere in the mine is restored, but to conduct rescue work now means sending people to their death," Kemerovo region governor Aman Tuleyev said.

Emergency services are pumping air into the mine following the collapse of the main airshaft and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered Emergency Situations Ministry Sergei Shoygu to take personal charge of the rescue operation.

Despite the enforced delay while the ventilation problems are solved, Putin told a crisis meeting of Emergency Services staff: "To sit idly by and wait until everything resolves itself would be wrong. We must make every effort and do everything possible to save people."

According to Shoygu, there were 359 people working below ground at the time of the first explosion. Of those 295 have been brought to the surface, including the dead and injured from the initial blast.

Raspadskaya opened in 1973, and is thought to be Russia's biggest coal mine, extracting about 8 million tonnes a year according to its website.

It is 40 per cent owned by Evraz, a leading metals producer, but officials at that company say they have no operational control over day-to-day management of the colliery.

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