At least 52 people died in a Russian mining accident at a mine in Siberia, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday.
Some 49 more people were also injured in the incident, reportedly involving an explosion followed by a fire.
The Emergencies Ministry said that 237 miners had been brought to the surface from the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in the Kuznetsk Basin.
Russia’s state Tass news agency cited an unnamed emergency official as saying that coal dust had caught fire, causing smoke to fill the mine through the ventilation system.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had expressed his condolences to the families of those killed and hoped that those still missing could be saved, according to Interfax.
Rescuers die searching for miners
Later on Thursday, six rescuers died when they ran out of oxygen while attempting to retrieve those still stuck in the mine.
Teams of rescuers were sent into the mine but later recalled over the threat of further explosions. One team failed to respond, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry’s press service said.
Three bodies were later recovered, with sources telling Interfax that their tanks ran out of oxygen.
Hopes fade for those trapped
Meanwhile, fears for the missing miners are growing as their self-rescue units will have run out of oxygen by now.
“The missing miners could have run out of oxygen by as early as lunchtime. The self-rescue systems are designed for six hours, with non-intensive use a little longer. However, more than 12 hours have passed since the accident. There is still no communication with them,” a source told Interfax. They also noted that no voids with breathable air had yet been discovered in rescue efforts.
Further rescue attempts have been postponed to Friday due to a build-up of methane.
A criminal case has been opened.
Russia’s mining industry sees accidents fairly regularly, mostly as a result of poor safety standards and aging equipment.
An accident in 2010 at the largest Russian coal mine, the Raspadskaya mine in Siberia, killed 91 people and injured more than 100.
aw, tj/msh (AFP, Interfax, AP)