Siberian mine blast kills 38


Summary

The disaster came weeks after Russia's worst mining accident since the Soviet era occurred at a nearby mine owned by the same company, Yuzhkuzbassugol, with the loss of 110 lives.

The explosion took place deep underground during the morning shift at the Yubileinaya mine near Novokuznetsk, in west Siberia's Kemerovo region, about 3,000 kilometres east of Moscow.

Seven miners were injured, two of them seriously.

Tearful vigil

At the mine's entrance around 40 relatives tearfully awaited news of loved ones in heavy rain.

"He's dead! He's dead! Where is his body?" said one woman who wiped her tears with a handkerchief as she sobbed in the arms of a miner, who told her: "Don't worry, Roma is alive."

Another miner, who gave only his first name, Andrei, said: "I was in the mine at the time of the blast. I felt the shock wave and I immediately went for the exit."

Regional Governor Aman Tuleyev told journalists that funerals of the victims would take place on Saturday and added that he had received a phone call from President Vladimir Putin offering support and condolences.

He said the victims had died of burns and asphyxiation and explained that the destruction had been less than in the March blast due to an absence of volatile coal dust in the air.

Yuzhkuzbassugol, which owns 20 mines in the region, is 50 percent owned by metals and mining giant Evraz Group, in which Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich holds a 41 percent stake.

Mr Abramovich is better known in western nations as the owner of English Premiership football club, Chelsea.

Safety standards slammed

The company came under heavy criticism from inspectors after the blast in Ulyanovskaya in March for allowing "serious breaches" in safety controls at several of its mines.

An official for Russia's industrial safety agency, Rostekhnadzor, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the reasons for the blast were being investigated and that the company could now lose its licence.

As relatives on Thursday waited around the mine's administration building, many voiced shock at the second disaster to hit the region in just a few months.

"Why do these guys take such risks? They're constantly being injured or killed," exclaimed an angry Lyubov Mamonova, whose husband had been hospitalised with burns.

"It's not as if they're paid a lot. His pay packet last month was 15,000 rubles ($A700) and the one before 9,000 rubles ($A424)," she said.

The coal industry in Kemerovo, a region in southwest Siberia, has suffered from chronic underfunding since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Twenty-three miners were killed there by a gas explosion in 2005 and two separate mine blasts in the area in 2004 killed a total of 60 miners.

Local miners said dozens of smaller fires and explosions have gone unreported.

Trade unionists have urged mine owners to stop paying miners according to production, a practice they say encourages the flouting of safety regulations.


The disaster came weeks after Russia's worst mining accident since the Soviet era occurred at a nearby mine owned by the same company, Yuzhkuzbassugol, with the loss of 110 lives.

The explosion took place deep underground during the morning shift at the Yubileinaya mine near Novokuznetsk, in west Siberia's Kemerovo region, about 3,000 kilometres east of Moscow.

Seven miners were injured, two of them seriously.

Tearful vigil

At the mine's entrance around 40 relatives tearfully awaited news of loved ones in heavy rain.

"He's dead! He's dead! Where is his body?" said one woman who wiped her tears with a handkerchief as she sobbed in the arms of a miner, who told her: "Don't worry, Roma is alive."

Another miner, who gave only his first name, Andrei, said: "I was in the mine at the time of the blast. I felt the shock wave and I immediately went for the exit."

Regional Governor Aman Tuleyev told journalists that funerals of the victims would take place on Saturday and added that he had received a phone call from President Vladimir Putin offering support and condolences.

He said the victims had died of burns and asphyxiation and explained that the destruction had been less than in the March blast due to an absence of volatile coal dust in the air.

Yuzhkuzbassugol, which owns 20 mines in the region, is 50 percent owned by metals and mining giant Evraz Group, in which Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich holds a 41 percent stake.

Mr Abramovich is better known in western nations as the owner of English Premiership football club, Chelsea.

Safety standards slammed

The company came under heavy criticism from inspectors after the blast in Ulyanovskaya in March for allowing "serious breaches" in safety controls at several of its mines.

An official for Russia's industrial safety agency, Rostekhnadzor, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the reasons for the blast were being investigated and that the company could now lose its licence.

As relatives on Thursday waited around the mine's administration building, many voiced shock at the second disaster to hit the region in just a few months.

"Why do these guys take such risks? They're constantly being injured or killed," exclaimed an angry Lyubov Mamonova, whose husband had been hospitalised with burns.

"It's not as if they're paid a lot. His pay packet last month was 15,000 rubles ($A700) and the one before 9,000 rubles ($A424)," she said.

The coal industry in Kemerovo, a region in southwest Siberia, has suffered from chronic underfunding since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Twenty-three miners were killed there by a gas explosion in 2005 and two separate mine blasts in the area in 2004 killed a total of 60 miners.

Local miners said dozens of smaller fires and explosions have gone unreported.

Trade unionists have urged mine owners to stop paying miners according to production, a practice they say encourages the flouting of safety regulations.