Fire at Russian coal mine kills 52 miners and rescuers

Officials say no chance of finding survivors after disaster at Listvyazhnaya mine in Siberia

Rescuer workers arriving at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine near the town of Gramoteino, Siberia on Thursday. Photograph: Russian Emergency Situations/AFP via Getty Images

Rescuer workers arriving at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine near the town of Gramoteino, Siberia on Thursday. Photograph: Russian Emergency Situations/AFP via Getty Images

 

A fire at a Siberian coal mine has killed 52 miners and rescuers, according to Russian news agencies.

Officials previously said that rescuers found 14 bodies and the search for 38 people missing was halted for safety reasons, because of a build-up of explosive methane gas and a high concentration of toxic fumes from the fire.

The state Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies cited emergency officials as saying that there was no chance of finding any survivors.

The Interfax news agency cited a representative of the regional administration who also put the death toll from Thursday’s fire at 52.

Regional officials declared three days of mourning.

A total of 285 people were in the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region of south-western Siberia when a fire erupted and smoke quickly filled the mine through the ventilation system. Rescuers led to the surface 239 miners, 49 of whom were injured.

Russia’s deputy prosecutor general Dmitry Demeshin told reporters that the fire most likely resulted from a methane explosion caused by a spark. Explosions of methane released from coal beds during mining are rare but they cause the most fatalities in the coal mining industry.

The Interfax news agency reported that miners have oxygen supplies normally lasting for six hours that could be stretched for a few more hours but would have expired by late on Thursday.

Russia’s investigative committee has launched a criminal investigtion into the fire over violations of safety regulations that led to deaths. It said the mine director and two senior managers had been 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.

Mining accidents

Before the rescue operation was halted, regional governor Sergei Tsivilev said there was still electricity and ventilation in the mine, but that they had lost contact with some people deep underground.

“For now there is no heavy smoke, so we hope that there is no fire,” Mr Tsivilev said on his Telegram channel. “We have no communication lines with these people, the underground communications system is not working.”

The mine is part of SDS-Holding, owned by the privately held Siberian Business Union. The owner had no immediate comment.

The coal-producing region of Kemerovo, roughly 3,500km east of Moscow, has been hit by fatal mining accidents for years.

In 2007, Kemerovo was the site of the worst mining accident since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union when an explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine claimed the lives of more than 100 people. Three years later, explosions at the region’s Raspadskaya mine killed more than 90 people.

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 the incident, authorities analysed the safety of the country’s 58 coal mines and declared 20 of them, or 34 per cent potentially unsafe. The Listvyazhnaya mine was not among them 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.

Another inspection of the mine was conducted last Friday, but its conclusions were not immediately reported. – AP/Reuters