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10 May, 2010 04:23

More miners found, death toll rises to 52

More bodies have been found in the Siberian coal mine hit by two gas explosions over the weekend, raising the death toll to 66. Rescuers are desperately trying to reach 24 miners still trapped deep underground.

Emergency teams have started flooding the tunnels in order to flush out dangerous gases and allow the search for survivors to resume.

Today is a day of mourning in the region.

“The tunnels are being flooded to flush out methane from the mine,” said Pavel Plat from the Emergency Service. “And as soon as it's possible to go underground, the emergency workers will continue their rescue efforts. According to estimates it may happen in 5 to 7 days.”

All 19 rescue workers sent into the mine following the first of two blasts have been found dead and have been identified. So far, 40 bodies have been identified.

83 people have been taken to hospital, six of those who were severely injured have been transported to Moscow.

Grieving relatives of those trapped underground have gathered at the site of the blast.

“My son and my nephew have been underground for two days already, and we still don’t know if they're alive,” Tatyana Relke said.”My colleague’s husband is also down there. It’s such a tragedy for the whole city. Everybody's crying and praying that they are alive.”

Both the water supply and the air ventilation system were restored in the mine on Saturday, according to the head of the local Emergency Ministry subdivision Aleksandr Apalkov.

“By these measures we expect to extrude the methane and eliminate the possibility of a new blast,” he said. “Currently there are a few large seats of fire in the mine. The concentration of methane is high.”

“Four hundred cubic meters of water will be delivered to the mine on a daily basis,” the spokesperson added. The subdivision will be able to search for missing miners in six to seven days.

“We approximately know where they are, but there is no possibility of reaching them yet because of massive obstructions,” Apalkov said.

“There is no danger of an explosion,” Apalkov asserted.

Earlier Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoigu has held a media conference, in which he said the situation is still very precarious. The ventilation system has now been restored. However, the more air they pump in, the higher the risk of a new explosion, as the concentration of methane gas inside the mine is high.

“We have a limited amount of time to search and remove the injured or dead from the mine. There is a dense level of methane gas. So now we need to decide if we need to increase ventilation there, the problem is that if we pump in more oxygen, we face the possibility of another explosion,” Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoigu commented.

Because of that, rescuers who have descended underground cannot use their equipment to remove stones blocking access to the shaft.

Another problem is that rescuers hear very few signs from the trapped miners.

Rescue teams continue to arrive from all over the country to assist in the search and rescue operation.

I lost consciousness when the blast occurred,” one of the survivors told RT. “When I woke up there was smoke and dust around me. I was in shock an in pain. I somehow managed to make it outside. My friends have worse injuries than me.”

Aleksandr Sergeev from the Independent Coal Miners’ Union says there is no chance of finding survivors trapped under the rubble.

“The second blast was very powerful, there’s little hope that anyone survived. It's likely there's still methane in the mine. So the top priority is getting fresh air in there. Most mine explosions with a high death toll are caused by coal dust and methane. We can't fully remove this risk, but certain requirements should be met. Unfortunately, neither Russia nor other CIS countries have adopted regulations to minimize the risk of explosions. Russia hasn’t ratified the International Labor Organization’s instructions on safety rules for working in mines, where the focus is on labor hazards rather than productivity. We need to change the whole system, the attitude of the mine owners and workers,” Sergeev told RT.

It's difficult to draw conclusions about the causes of the explosions now, but the level of methane gas in the mine at the time of the blasts was normal,” stated Vladimir Goryachkin, Deputy Director General of Raspadskaya Coal Company.

It is still unclear what exactly had caused the explosions. An investigation launched at the request of President Dmitry Medvedev may help to point out any technical failure or overlooked safety measures.

There was severe unrest in the region last night. About 50 people blocked the railway, but soon were overrun by police. As a result, 20 freight and one passenger trains were delayed.

Rioters took to the streets protesting the fact that mines were not being maintained safely and that no one has been prosecuted for the double blast on May 8- 9, which claimed lives of over 60 people.

According to the governor of the region, most of the protesters were youngsters, and they were motivated by someone to participate in street rallies.

Some people have been detained following the unrests.

None of them are miners, as the miners union of that region has said that they have nothing to do with the protests.

“When we were on the square after the funeral, some people came to us trying to involve us in this story [protests]. We did not go,” said a spokesperson of the miners union.

Nonetheless, the governor of the region said that he agrees with the demands put forward by the miners: there should be an investigation, and those who are found responsible for the explosions should be brought to justice.

The original reason for the rioting was allegedly that the miners were not getting enough pay, which the governor said he was looking into.

“I charged my assistants with the task to work with all demands of the activists,” he said. “Their claims are reasonable and I will do everything to resolve the issues.”

The owner of the mine should bear responsibility for the blasts, asserted the governor of Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleev.

“It is fully the owner’s fault, because the owner only is responsible for security of mines,” he said.

He also expressed confidence that investigation of the events will be objective and those found responsible will be punished.