K+S potash mine could close for weeks after deadly blast
UNTERBREIZBACH, Germany Oct 2 (Reuters) - The German potash mine operated by K+S where three workers died from carbon dioxide poisoning may have to close for weeks, the fertiliser company's chief executive said on Wednesday.
The deadly blast happened on Tuesday after a controlled explosion at the mine in the German state of Thueringia caused a blowout of CO2, which occurs naturally in the salt rock.
It may take "from days to a few weeks" to fan the gas out of the mine and for mining authorities and public prosecutors to complete their investigations, Chief Executive Norbert Steiner told Reuters.
The mine accounts for almost 1 million tonnes of the group's annual output in potash products of 7 million, according to the company.
The accident occurred in a 700-metre-deep shaft near the town of Unterbreizbach. Four other miners were rescued.
Carbon dioxide occurs in pressurised liquid form in potash deposits that are mined using controlled explosions and when it vaporises, it expands 100 times in volume.
The gas flooded the entire mine within seconds of the blast, causing a plume of salty dust to shoot up the mineshaft about 11 km (7 miles) from the site of the blowout.
The dead miners, whose routine job was to measure CO2 underground, were 6-7 km from the outburst when they asphyxiated.
"Our safety procedures will of course have to be reassessed based on the findings but we can't say anything specific until the investigations are concluded," Rainer Gerling, manager of the mine, told a news conference on Wednesday.
Shares in the company fell as much as 3.5 percent and were trading 0.9 percent lower at 1300 GMT, while the German blue-chip index lost 0.7 percent.
"K+S has procedures in place that had been regarded as absolutely safe from decades of experience. But we had never before seen the dimensions of what happened yesterday," Gerling said.
M.M. Warburg analyst Oliver Schwarz said K+S would have to carry out a costly overhaul of its production methods only if the remaining minable salt rock were shown to contain more CO2 than previously thought, adding that he deemed this less likely. (Reporting by Tilman Blasshofer, Ludwig Burger and Andreas Kroener; Editing by Dale Hudson)
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