Russian mine explosion kills dozens, including rescuers

A gas build-up and explosion at a Siberian coal mine on Thursday killed at least 52 people — including six rescuers — in the country’s worst mining disaster in more than a decade, Russian officials said.

The accident happened early this morning at the Listvyazhnaya mine in Russia’s Kemerovo region, about 3,200 miles east of Moscow, after a ventilation shaft began to fill with gas, the Russian Commission of Inquiry reported.

Rescue efforts at the mine, which plunge 400 meters into the earth, continued throughout the day, even as the death toll continued to rise. Miners initially considered missing were gradually moved to the list of dead until late Thursday, when authorities said they had been forced to suspend rescue operations due to a high concentration of methane in the mine.

Interfax, the Russian news agency, reported that there seemed to be no hope of finding anyone alive.

At least some of the dead were laborers who were suffocating. Others may have fallen into the trap.

The country’s deputy attorney general told Interfax that a methane explosion most likely made it impossible for miners to get out.

A miner, Mikhail Pozdnyakov, told Channel One, Russia’s national television network, that he had heard “a loud bang” and that he “couldn’t see anything afterwards”.

“Everything was filled with dust and ashes, and anyone who could fall to the ground,” said Mr. Pozdnyakov from a hospital. “Seven people got out with me and five stayed behind.”

Coal mining accidents have been common in Russia since Soviet times, some of which are attributed to the sporadic enforcement of regulations.

This year alone, several government agencies have checked the Listvyazhnaya mine dozens of times. They discovered hundreds of violations, imposed fines and even ordered work stoppages, Russia’s technology watchdog said in a statement.

But the mine was open for business on Thursday and dozens of people were killed by the end of the day.

The commission of inquiry said it had opened a criminal investigation into the disaster and had already arrested the director of the mine, his deputy and the head of the mining sector where the incident took place.

The Kemerovo region accounts for more than half of the coal produced in Russia. It has also been the site of some of the worst mining accidents.

In 2007, an explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine killed more than 100 people. In 2010, more than 90 people were killed in two explosions at the Raskadskaya mine. In 2004, 13 miners died in the same mine where the explosion happened on Thursday.

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