AN UNDERGROUND methane gas explosion killed up to 18 coal miners in northern Russia yesterday and President Vladimir Putin dispatched his disasters minister to the scene.
Rescue workers said they had brought ten bodies to the surface at the Vorkutinskaya mine, owned by large Russian steel company Severstal, in the icy Komi region and were trying to recover eight other corpses.
About 250 people had been at the pit at the time of the blast, some 2,600ft below the surface but most had escaped or been rescued, government officials said.
Although mine safety has improved since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, fatal accidents are frequent in Russia’s ageing pits. Most accidents have been attributed to methane blasts, negligence or a failure to follow safety regulations.
“We need a clear and understandable picture of what happened,” emergencies minister Vladimir Puchkov told local officials and rescue workers via a video link-up. Mr Putin ordered Mr Puchkov to travel to Komi, about 750 miles north-east of Moscow, to oversee the rescue, clean-up and help the victims’ families.
Russia has opened an investigation into whether there had been safety violations at the 40-year-old mine.