Siberian mine blast kills 12, traps 80

Twin methane gas explosions killed
12 coal miners and trapped 80 underground in western Siberia on Sunday, under
conditions so dangerous that officials called off all rescue operations for
fear of sending additional men to their deaths.

Rescue workers searched for
survivors at Raspadskaya mine in western Siberia, Russia, after twin coal mine
explosions caused by methane gas.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who,
like virtually all the country’s leadership, was involved in grandiose
celebrations of Victory Day, called the situation “very, very hard” and
“tragic”. He ordered the Emergency Situations Minister, Sergei Shoigu, to leave
for Siberia to supervise rescue operations.

The first blast rocked one of
Russia’s largest coal mines, the Raspadskava, just before 9pm on Saturday
night, when more than 312 workers were inside. Hundreds had made it to the
surface when, four hours later, a second blast destroyed the main air shaft,
trapping the miners and rescue workers inside amid dangerous levels of methane.

Governor Aman G. Tuleyev, the top
official in the Kemerova region, said there was a good chance more explosions
would follow.

“To carry out rescue work now means
to send people to die,” he said.

Rescue workers will likely not be
allowed to enter the mine until Monday, the region’s top emergency official,
Yerem Arutyunyan, told the RIA-Novosti news service. He said scientists are
monitoring methane levels inside the mine, and workers on the surface are
struggling to restore ventilation so the workers trapped inside can breathe.

A reporter at the scene from the
Interfax news service said the relatives of trapped miners were agitated, and,
during a meeting with rescue officials, were shouting, “They are short of air
there,” “Most likely nobody is alive anymore,” and “Tell us the truth!”

Officials tried to assure them that
there was still hope, saying the mine was outfitted with modern breathing
apparatuses and they were in good order. But they acknowledged that the
ventilation system had been destroyed.

The mine, founded in 1973, belongs
in part to the steelmaking giant Evraz Group. Evraz’s owners include Roman
Abramovich, a billionaire famous for buying London’s beloved Chelsea football

Prosecutors announced on Sunday
that they have opened a criminal investigation into the causes of the

In 2007, 108 people were killed
after a methane explosion in the same coal-rich area of Siberia, prompting a
national day of mourning. Authorities later said that the mine’s management
deliberately disabled a methane detector, defying safety regulations in order
to boost production. In that case, methane built up to the point where an
explosion was sparked by a short circuit.