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9 May, 2010 05:15

13 dead, 59 injured in Siberian mine blast

The death toll from the twin mine blast in Russia’s Siberia now stands at 13 people. Rescue workers say two more bodies have been recovered from a Siberian coalmine hit by two gas explosions.

Eight trapped miners have been rescued.

The latest information has not yet been confirmed by the authorities.

But rescue teams continue their search for over 70 workers and rescuers trapped below ground – in what's an increasingly desperate situation as air in the shaft dwindles to critically low levels.

Twelve bodies have been removed now from the mine and seven have been identified.

The blasts left 59 people injured, 12 of them have been taken from the local hospital to other specialized hospitals so they can receive medical treatment. Nine miners are reported to be in serious conditions.

41 other injured remain in the local hospital.

"Six people have been released after examination. A few miners who earlier got out of the mine themselves have asked for medical help,” a source in the local hospital reported.

Teams of psychologists are being prepared to work with the relatives of the injured and dead in the blasts. More forces of the Emergency Ministry are being sent to the scene.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has held an emergency cabinet meeting.

“It is evident the situation is grave – dozens still remain underground and their fate is unknown. We have to do our best to save the people. All medical services must work interactively and efficiently to help the victims,” he said.

“I ask the Health Ministry and the governor off the Kemerovo region to prepare a draft document concerning the aid to the families of those killed and injured. I also ask [Emergencies] Minister Shoigu to render himself at the site urgently to supervise the rescue work there,” Putin instructed the services.

A powerful methane explosion occurred at 8.55pm Moscow time [4.55pm GMT] in the Raspadnaya mine, one of the largest in Russia, in Mezdurechensk, the Kemerovo Region. A second blast ensued a few hours later.

359 people were inside when the first explosion occurred. 295 of them have been evacuated from the mine.

The second explosion has taken the lives of four people, in addition to the eight killed in the first blast. During the second blast, the main air shaft in the mine was destroyed.

“There is heavy smoke in the mine and it is impossible to conduct rescue work,” a source at the Raspadskaya coal mining company told Itar-Tass. “Now we are trying to eliminate the smoke. Due to the second explosion we have lost contact with three crews of rescuers.”

American expert on coal mining, Homer Hickam explained the nature of methane gas and its specifics.

“Methane is a very sneaky gas – you can’t see it, you can’t smell it. It comes out of coal – anytime that raw coal is exposed to the air, it comes out. And in some mines it comes out in buckets. The engineers have to constantly be making new plans how to keep that methane driven off the mine,” Hickam said.

At least 80 people, including miners and rescue workers reportedly remain trapped underground.

Heavy machinery has cleaned the debris from the destroyed air shaft and specialists are working to restore the mine’s air supply.

The rescue operation involves 185 Emergency Ministry workers, eight reanimation teams and 40 vehicles. Authorities have recently sent 46 specialists from other ministries and agencies, as well as 16 additional vehicles, to the site of the tragedy. A group of nine psychologists is also working at the scene. A special transport plane has been dispatched from Moscow to Kemerovo, bringing more psychologists and rescue experts. The plane is also carrying the necessary rescue equipment.

A criminal investigation has begun, focusing on charges of “disruption of safety rules for mining work leading to the death of one or more people.” A group of investigators are now working at the scene.

The head of Russia’s Emergency Ministry, Sergey Shoigu, has outlined for Russian president Dmitry Medvedev all measures being taken to save the miners remaining underground.

“Dmitry Medevdev ordered the head of the Emergency Ministry to inform him about the progress in rescue works and apply all possible means to save people,” a source in the Kremlin press service told Itar-Tass news agency.