A Russian underground mine blast is blamed on a methane gas explosion, killing up to 18 workers at a coal pit. President Vladimir Putin sent his emergency minister to the scene to oversee rescue efforts.
Rescue workers said they had brought 10 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, about 2,600 feet below the surface but most had escaped or been rescued.
Although mine safety has improved since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, fatal accidents are frequent in Russia’s ageing coal 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.
Putin sent his condolences and ordered Puchkov to travel in person to Komi, about 750 miles northeast of Moscow, to oversee the rescue, cleanup and help the victims’ families.
The Emergencies Ministry and Severstal said 16 miners had been killed, and the fate of two others was unknown. Three people were taken to hospital following the blast.
Russia’s federal Investigative Committee opened an inquiry to check whether there had been safety violations at the Vorkutinskaya mine, which began production in 1973.
A major mine blast killed 110 people in the coal-mining region of Kemerevo in 2007 and another explosion in the same region in 2010 killed more than 60.