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Clock Ticking After Twin Mine Blasts Kill 32

Emergency workers gathering near the destroyed ventilation unit at the Raspadskaya mine, in Mezhdurechensk on Monday, May 10.

[When are we going to realize that we have to STOP with all this senseless mining and destruction of the Earth? Tony]

10 May 2010
By Natalya Krainova and Irina Filatova

Twin weekend explosions at a Kemerovo region mine, the country’s biggest producer of coal for the steel industry, killed at least 32 miners and rescuers and injured 71 others, officials said Monday.

Fifty-eight miners and rescuers remained trapped late Monday, and rising flood waters meant that emergency workers had only until Wednesday morning to rescue them, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters.

“The situation is very hard, but still the rescue operation will continue until we see that all possible rescue efforts have been taken,” President Dmitry Medvedev said during a video link with regional authorities.

The explosions at the Raspadskaya mine might have been caused by a buildup of methane, a frequent cause of such accidents, but mine sensors showed that gas levels were normal at the time of the blasts late Saturday, Vladimir Goryachkin, deputy director general of the mine’s owner, the Raspadskaya Coal Company, told a news conference, Interfax reported.

But a miner who had managed to come to the surface after Saturday’s blasts said the methane sensors often worked “incorrectly,” RIA-Novosti reported.

The mine is co-owned by Evraz Group, the steel and mining giant, and is located in the city of Mezhdurechensk.

Investigators suspect that safety violations led to the deaths and have opened a criminal investigation, the Investigative Committee said in a statement. The charges carry a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

The first explosion at the Raspadskaya mine occurred at 11:54 p.m. local time, or 8:54 p.m. Moscow time, emergency workers said. A total of 359 miners were underground at the time of the first blast, and emergency workers led 295 of them to the surface.

The second explosion occurred four hours later, at about 4 a.m. local time, killing miners and the rescuers trying to bring them to the surface.

The mine’s anti-flooding systems have failed, and although the ventilation system has been fixed, rescuers were worried that an excessive amount of oxygen could lead to more explosions.

“Has anyone heard anything about the 17th section [of the mine]??? Tell me, please!!! My husband is there,” a miner’s wife wrote on an Internet forum, reported.

Sixty-nine miners and rescue workers remained hospitalized Monday. Six who suffered the most serious injuries were airlifted to Moscow for treatment Monday, Interfax reported.

The first funerals for five people killed in the accident will be held Tuesday.

Medvedev has ordered Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to form a government commission to oversee the mine accident, the Kremlin said on its web site.

Putin signed an order Monday for Kemerovo regional authorities to pay 1 million rubles ($33,000) to the family of each person who died in the mine; 400,000 rubles ($13,200) to each person who was seriously injured; and 200,000 rubles ($6,600) to each person who was slightly injured, the government said on its web site.

The Kemerovo administration said on its web site that the Raspadskaya Coal Company will pay another 700,000 to 900,000 rubles ($23,000 to $29,000) to the family of each person who died in the mine Saturday, as well as 30,000 to 200,000 rubles ($1,000 to $6,600) to each person injured there, depending on the seriousness of the injuries.

At least three methane explosions have occurred in Raspadskaya over the past decade, killing five workers.

Four miners died and six were seriously wounded after a blast in March 2001 that occurred in a part of the mine where mining work had stopped two years earlier.

Workers complained at the time that methane levels in the mine were exceeding permissible rates but their superiors had ordered them to work anyway, Kommersant reported in 2001.

Another explosion in the mine occurred four years later, in June 2005, when lightening struck a gas-suction hole, causing methane to explode. No one was hurt.

The most recent explosion occurred on Jan. 23, when a methane blast caused a ceiling to collapse, killing one miner. Rescuers evacuated 244 other miners.

In 2008, inspectors with the local branch of the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Inspection started a check in Raspadskaya and 72 other mines in the Kemerovo region at the request of Governor Aman Tuleyev.

A local court suspended work at Raspadskaya for 15 days after the check disclosed “severe violations of industrial safety” in the mine.

A methane blast at the Yubileinaya mine in the Kemerovo region killed 39 miners in May 2007. The country’s industrial safety watchdog said the primary cause of the blast was a faulty safety system to monitor the concentration of methane gas in the mine.



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