Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Bodies of 44 Indian miners found

AFP , RANCHI, INDIA

The bodies of 44 miners were found yesterday after a coal mine collapse in eastern India and authorities said there was no hope of finding 10 more workers who remain missing.

Tragedy struck late on Wednesday when an explosion trapped the miners deep underground. Any workers who survived the initial blast would have been killed within minutes by deadly carbon monoxide gas, mine officials said.

"Our teams have counted 44 bodies lying deep in the mine shaft," said Partho Bhattacharya, managing director of state-run mine owners Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL).

"Of these, 29 have been brought up. ... The work is proceeding at a fast pace and we hope to complete it by the end of today [Friday]," he said.

Rescue operations continued all night at the Jharia coalfield, 170km from the state capital Ranchi, and Bhattacharya said the 10 miners still missing had no chance of survival.

The blast could have been caused by highly-inflammable methane coming in contact with oxygen, officials said.

Carbon monoxide readings taken in the shaft after the explosion showed the deadly gas was present at levels that would have caused death "in two to three minutes," BCCL's safety manager B. Ramarao said.

Four miners working higher up the shaft at the Bhatdih colliery were rescued on Wednesday night with two of them suffering severe burns.

But the others, working farther underground at a depth of 500m, were trapped by the explosion.

A BCCL official manning an emergency control room set up by the firm said rescue teams had drilled holes into the mine shaft and pumped in oxygen to reduce levels of poisonous gases and allow rescuers to carry out their work.

"We have deployed manpower in full to find the missing miners," said the official who preferred to remain unnamed.

"The deaths were caused by carbon-monoxide inhalation. The bodies will be handed over to the victims' relatives as soon as the post-mortem is conducted at the colliery hospital," he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh late on Thursday expressed shock at the deaths of the miners, promising financial support to the next of kin.

Federal Mines Minister Shibu Soren, who visited the accident site, announced 300,000 rupees (US$6,500) and a job for a family member of each of the dead miners. He also ordered an inquiry into the accident.

Deaths of coal miners owing to flooding of mines or fire accidents are common in India.

Mineral-rich Jharkhand state's Dhanbad area has a history of fatal accidents. In 2004, 31 workers died after a mine filled with water. The deadliest tragedy occurred in 1975 when 375 miners drowned in the nearby Chasnala open-pit mine.

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