Eighteen miners died and another 20 were missing yesterday in two separate accidents at coal mines in the east of Ukraine, an industrial region notorious for its mining safety record.
At least 16 miners were killed instantly as a result of an explosion at the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya coal mine in the eastern Lugansk region early yesterday, the emergencies ministry said.
Another three workers received burns and other injuries and were hospitalized, it said. One of the injured died later of his wounds.
“The fate of nine miners remains unknown,” the Kiev-based emergencies ministry said in a statement, adding that a total of 28 people were working at the pit when the explosion occurred at 1:57am yesterday.
The Lugansk regional administration, citing preliminary information, said the accident was caused by a methane explosion, which has caused most of the country’s past mining disasters.
In a separate accident in Makiyivka mine in the neighboring Donetsk region, one person was killed, three hospitalized and 11 were missing, the emergencies ministry said.
The ministry said the 70m high mine headframe, which is used to lower miners down into the mine and bring them up again, collapsed.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych interrupted his vacation and was expected at the Lugansk mine, which is part of the Krasnodonugol mining company, his spokeswoman Darya Chepak said. He also canceled plans to attend the Formula 1 Power Boat Grand Prix near Kiev, his administration said.
Ukrainian Energy Minister Yury Boiko earlier arrived at the mine to personally take charge of the rescue operation.
An official with Group Metinvest, a private holding that includes the company operating the mine, said the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya mine had modern equipment, but was one of the most dangerous coal mines in the country as it had high levels of methane and had experienced accidents in the past.
“The company spent huge money to upgrade it,” he said on condition of anonymity. “But the mine is incredibly dangerous.”
Albina Kosheleva, the Lugansk regional administration spokeswoman, also said the mine boasted modern equipment and the safety procedures there were at a “decent level.”
The Group Metinvest official said families of the miners killed in the blast would each receive 1 million hryvnias (US$125,000).
Dmitry Kalitventsev, leader of a local miners’ trade union, expressed fears the rescue teams would find more dead.
“Even though there are reports of 16 dead, it is most likely that all of them died,” he said, referring to the missing workers.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a telegram to his Ukrainian counterpart expressing “sincere condolences” over the loss of life at the Lugansk region mine.
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