A gas buildup and explosion in a Siberian coal mine on Thursday killed at least 52 people – including six rescuers – in the country’s worst mining disaster in over ten years, Russian officials said.
The accident happened early in the morning at the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region of Russia, about 2,200 miles east of Moscow, after a ventilation shaft began to fill with gas, the Russian Investigative Committee reported.
Rescue efforts at the mine, which plunged 1,300 feet into the ground, continued throughout the day, though the death toll continued to rise. Miners who were initially considered missing were gradually moved to the list of dead until late Thursday, when authorities said they had been forced to suspend rescue operations due to a high concentration of methane in the mine.
Interfax, the Russian news agency, reported that there seemed to be no hope of finding anyone else alive.
At least some of the dead were workers who were strangled. Others may have been caught.
The country’s deputy prosecutor told Interfax that a methane explosion had most likely made it impossible for the miners to get out.
A miner, Mikhail Pozdnyakov, told Channel One, Russia’s national television network, that he had heard “a loud bang” and that he “could not see anything afterwards.”
“Everything was filled with dust and ashes, and whoever could, just fell to the ground,” said Mr Pozdnyakov from a hospital. “Seven people came out with me and five were left there.”
Coal mining accidents have been common in Russia since Soviet times, with some attributed to the sporadic enforcement of rules.
This year alone, several public authorities have inspected the Listvyazhnaya mine dozens of times. They discovered hundreds of violations, issued fines and even ordered the work suspended, Russia’s technology watchdog said in a statement.
But the mine was open for business Thursday, and by the end of the day, dozens had died.
The commission of inquiry said it had launched a criminal investigation into the disaster and had already arrested the mine director, his deputy and the head of the mine sector where the incident took place.
The Kemerovo region accounts for more than half of the coal produced in Russia. It has also been the site of some of the worst mine accidents.
In 2007, an explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine killed more than 100 people. In 2010, more than 90 people were killed in two explosions at the Raskadskaya mine. In 2004, 13 miners died in the same mine where the explosion took place on Thursday.