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Russia mourns 52 dead in Siberia coal mine tragedy

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A Siberian mining region began three days of mourning today after officials said 52 people died in a coal mine accident and a rescue effort ended in tragedy.

Investigators have launched a series of probes into the disaster at the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Keremovo region, the worst mining accident in Russia in more than a decade.

Officials said the mine had filled with smoke in the early hours of Thursday after an apparent gas explosion.

Fifty-two people were killed, the emergencies ministry said today, including six rescuers who had been part of a search operation.

“This is a huge tragedy for the entire country and the Russian emergencies ministry,” acting minister Alexander Chupriyan said in a statement.

“Rescuers, just like miners, did their duty to the end,” he said, and their names “will remain forever in our memory.”

The rescuers were to be given the Order of Courage — one of Russia’s top awards — posthumously, the ministry said.

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine

Mr Chupriyan said in televised remarks that another person had been found alive. No more details were immediately available.

There were 285 people in the mine when it began to fill with smoke and miners described a frantic scramble to evacuate.

“I might have lost consciousness,” one worker told Rossiya 24 state television. “I don’t know how much time passed.”

“I stretched out my hands, they couldn’t find me on their own, because the visibility was bad,” another said. “They grabbed me… I didn’t understand who it was and where they were pulling me.”

Safety violations

Officials said it appeared the accident had been caused by a methane explosion. The search and rescue operation had to be called off after several hours because of fears of another blast.

Regional authorities said six bodies – including those of three miners – had been brought to the surface. Nearly 50 people were hospitalised.

The Investigative Committee, which probes major incidents, opened a criminal case and said three people had been detained including the 47-year-old director of the mine and his 59-year-old first deputy.

Flowers at a memorial to workers

“During the initial investigation, it was established that the detainees violated industrial safety requirements,” the committee said in a statement.

Investigators opened another probe against two officials of the local branch of state safety watchdog Rostekhnadzor, accusing them of failing to conduct proper inspections of the mine.

Nearly 50 people were hospitalised following the accident, regional authorities said.

On top of the deadly accidents, activists have drawn attention to the environmental practices of mines in Russia, one of the world’s largest mineral producers.

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