Last attempt to find mine blast survivors

A week after the double blast at the Raspadskya mine, emergency teams are flooding the tunnels in an attempt to put out the fires raging inside.

With 24 people still missing, it may be the last chance to find survivors.

So far the tragedy has claimed the lives of 66 miners and rescue workers. Saturday was declared a day of mourning in the region.

People took to the streets last night claiming that safety violations by the coal mine's management led to the blasts, and demanded punishment for those responsible.

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The protesters blocked railways and clashed with police. Several people were wounded and around 20 detained. Only two of them turned out to be to be mine workers.

The region's governor says the blame for the tragedy lies with the mine owners, and called on locals to end demonstrations.

The atmosphere in the town of Mezhdurechensk is tense. Workers from the Raspadskaya coal mine are angry. They say the reason why dozens of their friends and colleagues died in last Saturday’s blasts was because safety regulations were considered less important than the pressure to produce coal.

“We work under the constant threat of an explosion,” said Vladimir Taminin, who works at the Raspadskaya coal mine. “But we are paid so little. If I don't meet the production target, I am paid less. I have a family of five, what are we supposed to live on? That's why we break safety rules and everybody knows about it. They don't tell us off, quite the opposite, they keep encouraging us.”

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Vladimir has worked at the mine for 21 years. It’s now been equipped with new technology that's safer and easier to use. But for accidents to be prevented, he says, it's not about the equipment, but the attitude of management.

“We had a new German ventilator installed recently. But it's not switched on to its full capacity. That's how they save electricity,” Vladimir said.

On the day of the two explosions, Vladimir was very lucky. His team was on duty but he took the day off to be with his children. His colleagues went down the mine as usual. Now rescuers are still looking for their bodies.

“When I heard about what happened, my first thought was ‘thank God I wasn't there.’ For the past three days I’ve been in a daze. Now I'm slowly realizing what's happened,” Vladimir said.

The miner says he's worried about going down there again, but he loves his job. His family is less enthusiastic.

“We are always scared for our dad, every time he goes down there. And if he's running late, we always fear the worst,” said Vladimir’s daughter.

As the night falls, Vladimir's family can sleep peacefully knowing their father is safe. But for those who lost friends or relatives in the mine, no money can compensate them for what they've lost.

Emergency services say the gas, which caused several fires in the mine, continues to accumulate underground.

First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said on Friday that rescuers are now fighting the fires and that it will take at least a week to put them out.

Mikhail Iofis from the Russian Academy of Sciences says nowadays there are means to secure coal extraction.

“There are tested technologies, they need to be used properly,” Itar-Tass quotes him as saying. “But they require investment. Still, given the present state of the coal industry, nobody is willing to implement these technologies.”

Nina Kaledina from Moscow State Mining University believes that “gas sensing devices are installed in mines in such a manner that they do not detect gas leaks”, Itar-Tass reports. She says it is possible to alter the equipment “so that it does not lie, but does not show the real situation in the mine.”

Vadim Potpov from the Siberian Institute of Coal and Coal Chemistry disagrees:

“There are thousands of gases sensing devices at the Raspadskaya mine. It is not true that they covered them or in any way affected their functioning. There are excellent specialists there, and they are not enemies of themselves.”