More than 50 miners and rescue workers have died after a coal mine explosion in Russia
Rescuers have found a survivor at a Siberian mine where a gas leak killed more than 50 people in one of the worst coal disasters to hit Russia’s core since the Soviet era.
The disaster in the Kemerovo region killed 51 people on Thursday, including six rescuers who were sent to try to extricate dozens of men trapped deep in the earth.
Sergei Tsefilov, governor of the Kemerovo region, said that the survivor was found in the Listvaiznaya mine and that he was taken to hospital. He was a savior who was supposed to have died. Governor Tsefilov said finding other survivors at this stage is highly unlikely.
Hours after a methane gas explosion and a fire filled the mine with toxic fumes on Thursday, rescuers were forced to halt the search due to a buildup of methane and carbon monoxide from the flames.
A total of 239 people were rescued from the mine. As of Friday morning, 63 of them had sought medical help, according to Kemerovo officials.
On Thursday, TASS and RIA Novosti news agencies quoted emergency officials as saying there was no chance of finding other survivors, and put the death toll at 52 on Thursday evening. The survivor who was rescued Friday morning brings the number to 51.
This was the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same Kemerovo region.
Regional officials declared three days of mourning.
Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Dmitry Demshin told reporters that the fire was most likely caused by a methane gas explosion caused by a spark.
Miners who survived describe their shock after reaching the surface. “Effect. Air. Dust. And then we smelled gas and just started to get out, as best we could,” one of the rescued miners, Sergei Golubin, said in televised remarks.
“We didn’t even realize what happened at first and took some gas.”
Another miner, Rustam Chipelkov, recalled the dramatic moment when he and his comrades were rescued when chaos swept over the mine.
“I was crawling and then I felt they were holding me,” he said. “I extended my arms to them, they couldn’t see me, the vision was bad. They caught me and took me out, if not for them we would be dead.”
Explosions of methane from coal seams during mining are rare, but they cause the greatest number of deaths in the coal mining industry.
Interfax news agency reported that miners had a normally six-hour supply of oxygen that could extend for a few more hours but would have run out by late Thursday.
The Russian Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into the fire for violations of safety regulations that led to the deaths.
Five people have been arrested so far, including the mine manager, two safety inspectors and two senior managers.
President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the families of the dead and ordered the government to provide all necessary assistance to the injured.
Thursday’s fire was not the first fatal accident at the Listvyazhnaya mine – in 2004, a methane gas explosion killed 13 miners.
In 2007, a methane explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine in the Kemerovo region killed 110 miners in the deadliest mine accident since Soviet times.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane gas explosions at a coal mine in Russia’s far north.
In the wake of the accident, authorities analyzed the safety of 58 coal mines in the country and declared 20 of them, or 34%, to be unsafe.
According to media reports, Listvyazhnaya mine was not among them at that time.
The Russian State Supervisory Authority for Technology and Environment, Rostakhnadzor, inspected the mine in April and recorded 139 violations, including violations of fire safety regulations.
Reporting by The Associated Press