MOSCOW (AP) — A fire at a coal mine in Russia’s Siberia on Thursday killed 11 people and injured more than 40, while dozens of others remained stranded, officials said.
Mine administrators told Interfax news agency that efforts to rescue people trapped in the mine were halted on Thursday afternoon due to fears of an explosion and rescuers were pulled out of the mine.
A fire broke out in the Kemerovo region of south-western Siberia. Russia’s state Tass news agency, citing an unnamed emergency official, said coal dust started the fire and smoke quickly filled the Listyzhnaya mine through a ventilation system.
A total of 285 people were in the mine at the time of the incident, Kemerovo Governor Sergei Civiliev said on his page on the messaging app Telegram. He said 35 miners are trapped underground, and their exact location is unknown.
Tsivilyov said in another Telegram post that a total of 49 people who were injured sought medical help. He had previously reported the number of people injured at 60 and offered no explanation for the amendment.
Earlier on Thursday, Russia’s acting minister for emergency situations, Alexander Chupriyan, said 44 miners had been hospitalized with injuries. The difference in the injured tolls reported by different authorities could not be resolved immediately.
Russia’s investigative committee has launched a criminal investigation into the fire that caused the deaths, alleging safety violations.
President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences to the families of the slain miners and ordered the government to provide all necessary assistance to the injured.
The Russian leader sat down with his Serbian counterpart Alexander Vucic for talks at the Russian Black Sea resort in Sochi on Thursday afternoon, during which Vucic also offered condolences to the families of the victims. Putin said the mine situation, “unfortunately, is not getting easier.”
“The lives of the rescuers are in danger… Let’s hope (they) will be able to save as many people as possible,” Putin said.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane explosions at a coal mine in Russia’s far north. In the wake of the incident, officials analyzed the safety of 58 coal mines in the country and declared 20 or 34% of them potentially unsafe.
According to media reports, the Listvyaznaya mine in the Kemerovo region at that time was not among them.
The latest inspection of the mine took place on 19 November, Interfax reported, citing officials from Russia’s state technology and ecology watchdog Rostekhnadzor. The report did not provide any details on the results of the inspection.
According to Tass, the regional branch of Rostakhanadzor also inspected the mine in April and recorded 139 different violations, including violations of fire safety rules.