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Death toll in Siberian mine blast at 51 after one more survivor found

Published November 26,2021

Russian officials got to lower the official death toll from Thursday's Siberian mine explosion by one when a survivor was unexpectedly found hours after rescuers had given up hope.

But recriminations are still flying and many are still asking what could have happened to leave 51 people dead after the blast, in the country's worst mining disaster in a decade.

The survivor was quickly taken to hospital, said Kemerovo regional governor Sergei Tsivilev via Telegram on Friday. He is 51 and survived underneath some rubble before clawing his way back to the surface early on Friday.

There are now 38 mine workers and 11 rescue workers hospitalized, most of them for inhalation of poisonous gas.

Tsivilev added that six bodies - three miners and three rescue workers - had been recovered from the mine. Experts say it could take days for all the remains to be found. Authorities had included 46 miners and five rescue workers among the 51 dead.

The governor also ordered three days of mourning. People laid carnations at various places around the community. According to media reports, the dead rescue workers are to get posthumous commendations.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin began a Cabinet meeting with a moment of silence before speaking of a "tragedy" and ordering all available aid to the survivors of the blast and relatives of the deceased. An aeroplane full of medical supplies was on its way to Kemerovo. Psychological aid will also be made available for people affected by the disaster.

The explosion tore through the mine early on Thursday. The cause was not initially clear.

Before the latest person was found alive, the Civil Defence Ministry had said 239 workers were rescued from the Listvyazhnaya mine shaft in the Kuznetsk coal basin (Kuzbass). The mine is some 3,000 kilometres east of Moscow.

Civil Defence Minister Alexander Chupriyan said there were 285 people in the mine at the time of the accident.

"This is a great tragedy for our entire country," he said on Friday, adding that air samples will be taken to assess the likelihood of further blasts. "The inspection of this mine won't be a matter of a single day."

Tsivilev said a methane gas explosion is the likely cause. "The exact cause is being determined by a commission," he said.

Search efforts will only resume once the risk of further explosions is minimized. Another shaft will be drilled in the next three days to help fight any lingering fires, Tsivilev said.

The mine manager and two other senior staff were detained on Thursday, according to the investigating committee. On Friday, it was revealed that two government experts who had recently assessed the mine's safety have also been detained.

Prosecutors said there is a history of multiple violations of guidelines in mines in the region.

Tsivilev said underground search operations should not continue until an explosion hazard was eliminated. An additional shaft would be drilled in the next three days to stop the chance of fires, he said.

Local media interviewed survivors. One miner told the Kommersant newspaper "Suddenly we couldn't get any more air." Many of those who survived only did so because they were carrying an oxygen canister at the time of the accident.

The paper wrote that some workers had to walk kilometres underground to reach an exit. Many passed out on the way because they took off the masks supplying them with oxygen when they stopped for breaks.

One miner's widow accused authorities of ignoring safety precautions. She said fires had been reported in the mine 10 days before the blast and said her husband knew there was methane in the mine, she told the Ria Novosti news agency.

"He said, when the sensor beeps, it's hosed down with water to make it stop beeping. Those are the conditions under which we work."

Coal mining in Russia can be extremely dangerous and serious accidents have occurred due to violations of basic safety regulations.

For example, methane gas explosions are common. The highly flammable gas is released during mining operations and accumulates in the shafts. If ventilation is poor, it then drifts underground.

But coal remains a valuable source of income for Russia, right behind oil and gas. Last year, 402.1 million tons was mined, according to official statistics.