MOSCOW (Reuters) - A methane blast at a large Siberian coal mine killed at least eight people, and dozens more were still underground hours after the explosion, emergency officials said on Sunday.
Another 24 workers were injured in the blast Saturday at the Raspadskaya mine in the Kemerovo region in Russia’s coal-rich Kuzbass late on Saturday, Valery Korchagin, a regional emergency official, said by telephone.
He confirmed there was a second blast in the mine hours after the first.
Korchagin said 12 of the injured were hospitalized. They were among more than 200 who emerged alive after the blast.
But 64 miners were still underground some six hours after the explosion, he said.
“Rescue teams are working to save them,” he said, but it was unclear whether authorities knew where they were and whether any were trapped.
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 website of its owner, which is also called Raspadskaya. It says the pit is the largest underground mine in Russia.
Raspadskaya, Russia’s largest stand-alone 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.
Saturday’s blast occurred shortly before midnight (1 p.m. EDT) as Russians geared up for a major national holiday marking the 65th anniversary of the World War Two defeat of Nazi Germany.
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 news agencies 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.
Reporting by Steve Gutterman; editing by Michael Roddy