Methane blast kills 18 at Russia coal mine
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW (Reuters) - An underground methane gas explosion killed up to 18 miners at a coal pit in northern Russia on Monday and President Vladimir Putin dispatched his disasters minister to the scene to oversee rescue efforts.
Rescue workers said they had brought 10 bodies to the surface at the Vorkutinskaya mine, owned by large Russian steel company Severstal, in the icy Komi region and were trying to recover eight other corpses.
About 250 people had been at the pit at the time of the blast, about 800 meters (2,600 feet) below the surface but most had escaped or been rescued, government officials said.
Although mine safety has improved since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, fatal accidents are frequent in Russia's ageing pits. Most accidents have been attributed to methane blasts, negligence or a failure to follow safety regulations.
"We need a clear and understandable picture of what happened," Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov told local officials and rescue workers via a video link-up soon after the explosion.
Putin sent his condolences and ordered Puchkov to travel in person to Komi, about 1,200 km (750 miles) northeast of Moscow, to oversee the rescue, cleanup and help the victims' families.
The Emergencies Ministry and Severstal said 16 miners had been killed and the fate of two others was unknown. Three people were taken to hospital after the blast, the company said.
"I need a clear report on the injured, the condition of their health and what kind of necessary specialized medical help they need. We are sending the appropriate experts from Moscow," Puchkov told officials. Continued...