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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

78 Miners Killed in Kemerovo Blast

Reuters TVAmbulances arriving Monday at the Ulyanovskaya mine to evacuate victims of a methane explosion. Emergency efforts were hampered by thick smoke.
A methane explosion killed at least 78 people when it ripped through a coal mine in Kemerovo region Monday, a regional spokesman said, the deadliest mining accident in the country in more than a decade.

More than 40 miners remained underground several hours after the explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine. National media quoted rescue workers as saying the evacuation was being hampered by smoke underground.

"The main task now is to find as many people as possible," Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev said in footage broadcast by Rossia television.

President Vladimir Putin ordered Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to fly to the scene to oversee the rescue effort.

Television footage in the pit showed one miner lying motionless, his clothes blackened with dirt, before ­emergency workers transferred him to an ambulance.

Tuleyev said late Monday that 200 miners were underground when the blast occurred. A spokesman for the regional administration said 83 had been safely brought up to the surface, leaving at least 42 miners ­underground.

Of those rescued, five were sent to local medical facilities for treatment, Gazeta.ru reported.

As of Monday evening, 200 rescue workers were trying to find those still trapped inside the mine, with more rescue teams on their way from nearby cities, Gazeta.ru reported.

An Emergency Situations Ministry rescue team was dispatched to the mine from Krasnoyarsk, Gazeta.ru reported. Rescue efforts were expected to continue through the night.

The Kemerovo regional prosecutor's office opened an official investigation into the incident Monday evening, but had no comment on what investigators believe could have caused the blast.

A source in the Yuzhkuzbassugol mining company, which owns the mine, told Interfax that the deadly explosion had resulted from an sudden increase in the concentration of flammable methane gas in the mine shaft.

The source said the methane might have seeped from an "underground pocket" just before the blast, Interfax reported.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov vowed Monday evening to set up a government commission to probe the blast and said owners should be held responsible for mine safety, Gazeta.ru reported.

Russia's second-biggest steelmaker, Evraz, holds a 50 percent stake in Yuzhkuzbassugol.

The company's management owns the other 50 percent and has operational control.

Evraz declined to comment Monday.

There was no marked change in its share price on the London Stock Exchange.

The Ulyanovskaya mine was opened in 2002, making it unusually new by the standards of the country's mining industry, which has suffered from spending cutbacks in the post-­Soviet era.

The mine has been producing 3 million tons of coal ­annually.

The blast was the latest in a long line of fatal accidents in Russian and Ukrainian mines, many of which are several decades old and lack modern ­equipment.

Security guards prevented reporters from getting close to the pit. The only sign of activity was ambulances and rescue vehicles driving to and from the site, a photographer at the scene said.(Reuters, MT)