Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gas explosion in Russian coalmine kills at least 35

A gas explosion ripped through a Siberian coalmine yesterday, killing at least 35 people in the latest in a grim catalogue of Russian mining disasters.

A spokeswoman for Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 178 miners had been rescued, six of them injured. Three were still missing five hours after the blast.

The methane gas explosion happened during the morning shift at the Yubileynaya mine near the city of Novokuznetsk in west Siberia, while 216 miners were below ground, officials said.

About 40 tearful relatives of the victims stood by the blast site under heavy rainfall.

"He's dead! He's dead! Where's his body?" said one woman. She wiped her tears with a handkerchief while sobbing in the arms of a miner, who told her: "Don't worry, Roma is alive."

The Governor of the Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleyev, arrived at the mine to oversee the rescue operation and declared tomorrow a day of mourning.

The disaster comes just weeks after a gas explosion in Ulyanovskaya, a nearby mine owned by the same company, Yuzhkuzbassugol, killed 110 people in the worst Russian mining accident in decades.

Inspectors denounced the company after the Ulyanovskaya blast for allowing "serious breaches" in safety controls at several mines.

An official for Russia's industrial safety agency, Rostekhnadzor, said the company could now lose its licence.

Yuzhkuzbassugol, which owns 20 mines in the region, is 50 per cent owned by the metals and mining giant Evraz Group, in which the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich holds a 41 per cent stake.

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