AT least 11 miners have been killed in a methane gas blast in a huge coal mine in Siberia and more than 80 people remain trapped underground after a second explosion, Russian authorities said.
The first explosion ripped through the Raspadskaya mine in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia at 1655 GMT on Saturday, according to the emergency situations ministry.
At least 11 miners were killed and 41 were injured, the ministry said, but rescue work was suspended after a second blast in the pit at around 2100 GMT, making conditions treacherous.
Sixty-four miners and 20 rescue workers were now trapped in the mine, Russia’s largest stand-alone coking coal producer.
“After the second explosion, we lost contact with three groups of rescue workers – we are talking about 20 people,” an official from the company that runs the mine told Interfax.
Deadly mine accidents are relatively common in Russia because of ageing infrastructure and violation of safety regulations.
The tragedy comes hours ahead of a military parade in Russia to mark its victory over the Nazis 65 years ago in World War II, the biggest event of its kind since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleyev said the second explosion in the Raspadskaya mine had destroyed the ventilation system and he warned that the lives of those trapped were in danger.
“Rescue work has been suspended due to the threat of new explosions,” Ria Novosti news agency quoted him as saying.
More than 150 people and 29 vehicles are involved in the rescue work, Interfax said. A crisis cell has also been set up.
The mineral-rich Kemerovo region has seen investment slide since the collapse of the Soviet Union and there have been several accidents in mines in recent years claiming dozens of lives.
Raspadskaya is part-owned by steel maker Evraz, which is controlled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovitch. It supplies coking coal to several metallurgical plants in Russia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Asia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an all-out rescue effort, while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spoken by telephone with the governor of Kemerovo, news agencies said.
“(The governor) informed the prime minister of the circumstances of the accident and steps taken to save the miners,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
A criminal investigation has been launched for “breaching safety regulations resulting in the death of at least two people”, an official from the local prosecutor’s office said.
“Officials from the enquiry panel have started questioning witnesses and examining the corpses,” added Nadejda Ananieva.
She said five bodies had been brought to the surface so far.