Rescuers yesterday battled hazardous conditions at a coal mine in northern Iran where 21 miners died in a failed attempt to save colleagues trapped deep underground after an explosion.
Hopes of finding 14 missing miners alive were fading after the blast on Wednesday at the mine in Azadshahr in Golestan Province, where three days of mourning were declared.
The rescue operation at the Zemestan Yort mine was hampered by poisonous gases that filled the tunnels, as well as by fears of a further collapse.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered condolences for the “very bitter” tragedy.
“Efforts by various organizations will be rewarded [by God]. They [should] increase their efforts as much as possible,” Khamenei said in a message.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also expressed sorrow for victims of the disaster, which has overshadowed his re-election campaign.
“The hope of finding the remaining 14 miners still alive is now minimal,” Sadegh-Ali Moghadam, emergencies director in Golestan, was quoted as saying by the state-run Iranian Republic News Agency (IRNA).
He said the bodies of the 21 miners were found at a depth of 600m and rescue teams have descended 1.4km into the tunnel where the blast happened.
“The problem is the upper arch, which has been weakened by the explosion. Miners are working to secure the tunnel” to be able to move forward, he said.
The tunnel caved in after methane gas exploded underground as workers tried to jump-start a locomotive engine, initial reports said.
Rouhani ordered authorities “to use all equipment available to facilitate the rescue services and save those trapped.”
“The painful incident involving a number of hard-working miners in the Azadshahr mine brought sorrow and mourning to all Iranian people,” he said.
About 30 miners were treated in hospitals for gas poisoning and injuries, IRNA reported.
There was no information on the condition of those trapped.
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