With clock ticking, rescue efforts for Russian mine blasts continue

09:57, May 11, 2010      

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Russia would spare no efforts in rescuing survivors of the weekend blasts that tore through a coal mine in Russia's west Siberian region of Kemerovo, authorities declared Monday.

The double blasts on Saturday night and early Sunday with an interval of four hours have killed at least 32 people and left 58 others unaccounted for. More than 70 people were also injured in the explosions at Russia's largest coal mine of Raspadskaya.

A total of 64 workers were trapped after the first blast and 20 rescue workers went missing after the second blast. Rescue work, which for one time was suspended amid fears of further explosions, resumed Sunday night.

RACING AGAINST TIME

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev demanded Monday a continuation of the rescue work.

"All rescue operations will continue," said the president at a meeting with some ministers and rescue workers.

"The situation is extremely difficult, nonetheless all rescue operations will continue until we reach truth, define what exactly happened, and are assured that all possible measures by the rescue workers were used in this situation," said the Russian leader.

Medvedev also instructed First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who was heading a special government commission for rescue and assistance to victims of the mine disaster, to fly to the scene.

Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika was also ordered to start probe into the cause of the blasts.

"Investigations need to be held within the frameworks of the criminal case, (to) understand how well the law on worker safety was followed," Medvedev said.

Despite a desperate endeavor to save as many lives as possible, conditions for rescue operations were more and more limited with the elapse of time.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who flew to the site Sunday to supervise the rescue operations, told reporters that rescuers were working in all directions to search for survivors.

"The work has been organized in all directions, electricity supply has been restored in all spots -- where it must be," he said, adding that another 30 units of rescuers from nearby regions were in reserve.

However, risks for further explosions still linger as long as high methane gas concentration remains in some areas, the minister warned.

"We need to understand if we should turn on the ventilation, as the oxygen inflow can increase the explosion risk," he said. "Unfortunately, we have very many restrictions, in some places we can work, and in the others -- cannot."

Shoigu said earlier Monday that merely 48 hours may be left for saving 13 miners and rescuers, in two locations due to rising water levels, because of the damaged drainage system.

Kemerovo Regional Governor Aman Tuleyev, who has taken charge of the rescue operations, said "the most dangerous section of the mine where the bodies of 17 dead rescuers have been found, has been cut off."

Mine rescuers in other sections of the mine were now searching for survivors or more bodies, he added, noting that the mine's main ventilator may be launched soon.

A special mobile laboratory was also checking the seismic resistance of the mine's surface buildings after going through powerful underground blasts, said the governor.

CAUSE OF BLASTS UNDETERMINED

Also on Monday, owner of the Raspadskaya coal mine said methane content at the time of explosions was "normal," and the cause of the blasts has yet to be determined.

"It's difficult right now to draw any conclusion. All the indicators showed that methane levels were normal," said Vladimir Goryachkin, deputy general director of the Raspadskaya company.

Founded in 1973, the Raspadskaya company was one of Russia's leading coal producers, with total coal reserves estimated at 782 million tons.

Goryachkin also said it was premature to talk about the possible causes of the blasts that occurred at the depth of 490 meters.

"Nobody has checked the entire mine yet. It consists of over 400 km of tunnels which is longer than the Moscow metro," Goryachkin said.

"Before every meter of the mine is examined, before an analysis is made, it is hard to speak of the causes and scale of the destruction," he added.

The regional Prosecutor General's Office has launched an investigation into the causes of the blasts and security measures adopted by the mining company.

This was not the first time for the Raspadskaya mine near the city of Mezhdurechensk to witness mine incidents. In late January, a worker was killed by collapsed ceiling in the mine.

Media reports have pinpointed aging infrastructure and violations of safety regulations as possible reasons behind the repeated tragedies at energy facilities, including one devastating disaster last August at Russia's largest hydroelectric plant that killed 75 people.

COMPENSATION FOR VICTIMS

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged on Monday compensation of 1 million rubles (33,012 U.S. dollars) to families of every mine tragedy victim.

People seriously injured would get 400,000 rubles (around 13,205 dollars), and less wounded 200,000 rubles (around 6,603 dollars).

As on the regional administrative level, Governor Tuleyev said those injured would be paid 30,000 to 200,000 rubles (990 to 6,603 dollars) depending on the severity of their injuries.

The Raspadskaya company has meanwhile scheduled first funerals of five of their dead workers for Tuesday.

Source: Xinhua
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