MOSCOW (Reuters) - Two blasts at a big Siberian coal mine killed at least 12 people and the search for dozens trapped underground was halted after a damaged ventilation shaft choked the mine with smoke and gas, Russian officials said Sunday.
Itar-Tass news agency cited a source at the coal company as saying 12 people were dead.
Another 41 people were injured in the explosions at the Raspadskaya mine in the Kemerovo region in Russia’s coal-rich Kuzbass late Saturday, Valery Korchagin, a regional emergency official, told Reuters by telephone.
The first explosion was caused by methane gas but authorities did not specify what caused the second blast.
Korchagin said 64 miners and 20 rescuers were still underground nearly nine hours after the first explosion, which came just before midnight (6 p.m. BST) Saturday.
Rescue operations were suspended because of dangerous conditions and fears of further explosions after the second blast some four hours later damaged the ventilation shaft, Korchagin said.
Emergency workers were trying to pump air into the mine, he said.
“To conduct rescue efforts now would be to send people to their death,” Kemerovo region governor Aman Tuleyev said at the site, according to the Itar-Tass news agency. He said they would continue once suitable conditions are restored.
Itar-Tass quoted a source at the company that owns the mine, also called Raspadskaya, as saying contact with the 20 emergency workers in the mine -- three rescue teams -- had been lost and their fates were unknown.
Korchagin said 12 of the injured were hospitalised. They were among more than 200 who emerged alive after the blast on Saturday.
The deadly mine drama marred weekend celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two, whose centrepiece will be a military parade in Moscow’s Red Square Sunday with Russian and foreign leaders looking on.
The mine in the city of Mezhdurechensk had reserves of some 450 million tons of coal and produced 8.9 million tons in 2007, according to the Raspadskaya company. It says the pit is the largest underground mine in Russia.
Raspadskaya, Russia’s largest standalone coking coal producer, is part-owned by steel and mining firm Evraz Group.
Rossiya-24 said another blast three months ago killed one worker at the mine, located in the coal-rich area of central Siberia known as the Kuzbass.
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu to ensure everything possible was done to rescue the miners, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke with Kemerovo region governor Aman Tuleyev, Russian media reported.
Mine blasts and other industrial accidents have prompted repeated calls from Russia’s leaders for improvements to creaking infrastructure and stricter adherence to safety rules. Kremlin critics say little has been done.
Reporting by Steve Gutterman; editing by Michael Roddy
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.