Dozens die in Ukraine mine explosion

 

A methane explosion ripped through a colliery in Ukraine's Donbass coalfield this morning, killing at least 33 miners and leaving 67 missing in underground shafts engulfed by fire and smoke.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich announced the latest toll after flying to Donetsk, his native region, to

An ambulance leaves the compound of a colliery, where a methane explosion killed at least 33 miners.
An ambulance leaves the compound of a colliery, where a methane explosion killed at least 33 miners.

assess the latest of a string of accidents in Donbass's outdated mines.

He said a fire burned unchecked more than 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) underground at the city's Zasyadko pit.

"So far it has been established that 33 miners have died. There are 67 more still underground. Their fate is unknown," Mr Yanukovich told reporters after attending a meeting of a commission of inquiry into the accident.

"There is a blockage at the accident site formed by a cave-in, airshafts and water channels. This is being cleared. Fire and smoke remain in section 14. The fire is still burning."

It was unclear how many of those missing had been close to the explosion when it occurred at 3am. Officials said 27 miners were in hospital, one in a serious condition.

The figures put the accident among the worst since Ukraine secured independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Trade unionists said seven of the dead had been identified.

"There is thick smoke in the shafts and for the moment rescue teams are unable to go where they are needed," a trade union official at the mine, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said by telephone.

Weeping relatives waited for news outside the mine headquarters. Fifth Channel television showed survivors of the explosion in a hospital isolation ward.

"The temperature rose sharply - so sharply you couldn't see anything," miner Vitaly Kvitkovsky told a television crew. "I put on my breathing equipment and found my way out by feeling the pipes and the rail lines."