UPDATE: 90 feared dead after Siberian mine blast

Rescuers were searching desperately for 58 people still missing in a Russian coal mine today as the death toll from twin methane blasts rose to 32.

Hopes were fading of finding survivors more than 450 metres underground at the Raspadskaya pit in Siberia, Russia’s largest underground mine. Eighteen of the victims have been rescuers who died in the second explosion yesterday after going in search of miners trapped by the first blast late on Saturday.

Twelve miners died and 71 were hurt in that explosion as 370 people worked underground at the mine in the Kemerovo region. Sergei Shoigu, the Emergency Situations Minister, said that the body of the 31st victim, a rescue worker, had been recovered as a large-scale search mission resumed.

He said that 30 teams of rescuers were searching “in all directions” in the mine after power and ventilation supplies were restored following the second explosion. But he cautioned that high methane levels and rising floodwater in the mine’s deepest shafts were hampering their work, adding that the rescue mission had 48 hours at most to find anyone alive.

Raspadskaya has 370 kilometres of tunnels. The explosion is the worst mine disaster in Russia since 39 people died at the Yubileynaya pit, also in Kemerovo, in May 2007.

Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, acknowledged the “clearly serious” situation in a video conference with rescue chiefs yesterday as the rest of Russia celebrated the 65th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. He ordered officials “not to sit on their hands”, adding: “We need to do everything possible to save the people.”

Nearly 300 miners did escape or were rescued shortly after the blasts, the ministry said. State television showed miners in blood-stained clothes being led to ambulances for treatment as grief-struck relatives gathered for information about the missing.

Many were preparing for the worst. Interfax news reported one relative appealing to rescuers: “Tell us the truth … there’s likely no one alive.”

More than 500 rescuers were taking part in the search mission at the mine near the city of Mezhdurechensk, which holds an estimated 450 million tons of coal reserves. Raspadskaya is part-owned by Evraz Group, itself part-controlled by billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

The mine company insisted that methane levels in the shafts had been normal immediately before the first blast. Vladimir Goryachkin, its deputy general director, said: “All instruments show methane levels were within the norm at the time of the explosion. At present, there could be many different versions of the cause of the accident.”

A company source had earlier said there had been a sudden build-up of methane gas in the mine and that miners had had no time to escape before the explosion.



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