Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Rubble blocks mine-rescue attempts

LITTLE HOPE Using their hands to dig through the debris, Russian rescuers were pessimistic yesterday about finding any survivors of a mine blast that killed at least 36

AP , OSINNIKI, RUSSIA

Russian rescuers yesterday used their hands to dig though the rubble of a Siberian mine shaft as hopes dwindled of finding any more survivors of a methane blast that killed at least 36 coal miners and left 11 others missing.

The explosion ripped through the mine early on Saturday, as 55 miners who had worked through the night were nearing the end of their shift. The blast left a pile of rubble that blocked rescuers, forcing some of them to resort to a longer route to the epicenter through a neighboring mine while the others tried to dig through the blasted shaft.

Eight miners were rescued from the Taizhina mine on Saturday, said Valery Korchagin, an emergency department spokesman in the Kemerovo region of western Siberia. Four of the rescued miners were injured, and two of them were hospitalized with burns, he said.

Vladimir Berdnikov, a spokesman for the regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry who was at the mine yesterday, said the toll was 36 and that 11 remained missing.

Earlier, he had said that 38 miners were dead, but later learned that rescuers had mistakenly counted two bodies twice.

Only 18 of the bodies had been retrieved by yesterday morning and 14 were identified, Berdnikov said. The bodies were very badly disfigured, making identification very difficult, Korchagin said.

"We will keep working until we find the last one," Berdnikov said. "There's still a chance, although it's small, but we'll keep working."

A handful of rescuers, their faces grim and blackened by coal dust, emerged from the adjacent mine yesterday morning. They said they had been working with shovels and just their hands to clear the rubble.

Asked if there was hope of finding anyone alive, one of the men just shook his head solemnly.

As the nation celebrated Easter, the most important holiday for Russia's predominant Orthodox Christian faith, grieving relatives sat in the spartan auditorium of the mine's Soviet-era, columned administration building -- topped with a red star -- to await news. Many cried as medical workers attended to them under a large painting of a smiling miner carrying a bouquet.

"They told me to wait. They've brought up some bodies but they haven't identified all of them," said Tatiana Fatykhova, 34, who had been waiting at the administration building on Saturday and again yesterday for news of her husband Rashid.

She leaned against a column for support, her eyes rimmed red from crying, as people nearby stared at a list of names of 14 miners identified by yesterday morning.

"This is terrible. I know these names," said Galina Greisher, a 49-year-old cleaning woman who has worked 30 years at the mine administration building.

Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleyev, who was overseeing the rescue operation, said that the shortest path to the blast site was blocked by what appeared to be impassable rubble, and the ITAR-Tass news agency said the roundabout path rescuers were trying to use stretched 5km.

The missing miners were on the other side of the wall of rubble or under it, Korchagin said.

The blast occurred at a depth of 560m. The shaft was filled with carbon dioxide, the Interfax news agency reported, and the rescue effort was hampered by heavy smoke, Ekho Moskvy radio reported.

A Russian government commission arrived at the mine early yesterday to investigate the cause of the blast. Deputy Prosecutor General Valentin Simuchenkov said that an investigation had been opened on charges of violations of safety rules.

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