Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Siberian gold mine fire kills 11

UNDERGROUND TRAGEDY Rescue workers discovered the bodies after a blaze caused by a welding torch trapped 33 miners below ground. The other 22 were still missing

AGENCIES , MOSCOW

Emergency workers located the bodies of 11 miners killed when a fire tore through a Siberian gold mine, officials said yesterday. Twenty-two others were still missing a day after the blaze.

The fire was sparked on Thursday by welding work deep in the central shaft of the Darasun mining complex, owned by London-listed Highland Gold, in Russia's remote Chita region on the Chinese border.

"Altogether 11 dead bodies -- eight in one part of the shaft and three in another have been found," a spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry in Chita, 5,000km east of Moscow, said by telephone.

"The bodies are being moved to a single location to be elevated to the surface," he added.

He said a total of 33 miners had been trapped by the fire and the fate of the remaining 22 was unknown.

"There is still hope to find survivors," the spokesman said.

Many of the rescuers, who worked through the night trying to reach the trapped miners through side tunnels, suffered smoke poisoning and some of them were taken to hospital.

The spokesman added that fresh rescue teams were arriving at the scene.

"The fire has been localized, but has not been completely put out yet," he said. "We have no information about the remaining miners."

SMOKE AND GASES

Interfax news agency quoted officials as saying that high temperatures, smoke and poisonous gases complicated the search.

Russian media said the miners had portable breathing devices, which allowed them to hold out for several hours, and that fresh air pumped into the shaft improved their survival chances.

But the extra air also fed the fire and made it more difficult to put it out, the media added.

Sixty-four miners were below ground when the fire broke out and some managed to crawl to safety through a tunnel. Officials say the fire broke out at a depth of between 85m and 135m.

Accidents are common in the mining industry in the former Soviet Union, where mine operators often lack funds to invest in safety equipment and technical upgrades.

Russia's gold mines have a generally better safety record than the more hazardous coal mining industry, which has been plagued by fatal accidents since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Ministry of Natural Resources said it would carry out a special inspection of safety practices at the country's coal and metallic ore mines, and an environmental official said the ministry would make an especially thorough check of Highland's Russian operations.

The Darasun mine, the smaller of Highland Gold's two main gold projects in Russia, produced 11,761 ounces of gold in the first half of this year, or around 13 percent of the company's total production.

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