23 miners found alive in Ukraine

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The Independent Online

Rescue workers found 23 miners missing underground after a gas explosion at a Ukrainian colliery and were bringing them to safety today through a narrow ventilation shaft.

They were still searching for another 13 still missing hundreds of metres underground after yesterday's explosion.

Officials overseeing rescue efforts in the Donbass coalfield initially announced that two miners had been brought to the surface more than 24 hours after the blast caused widespread damage to the Karl Marx pit. One man was found dead.

Rescue teams later located 21 more miners and began the laborious process of evacuating them through the ventilation shaft after the main shafts were badly damaged.

By mid-afternoon, officials quoted by Ukrainian media said six miners had been lifted to the surface at the pit in Yenakiyevo, northeast of the regional centre Donetsk. One was in serious condition.

"This is a narrow shaft and the process is going to take a long time, several hours," Marina Nikitna, spokeswoman for the regional mine safety inspectorate, told Reuters. "We hadn't even dared hope for this number."

First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov, the most senior government official at the site, said rescuers using the ventilation shaft had now pushed down to the 1,000 metres level underground, where the explosion had occurred.

"We will talk about people being saved only once they are safe on the surface," he told reporters.

Gas explosions are a frequent occurrence in Ukraine's mines, many of which are unprofitable and date from the 19th century. Many coal deposits are at a depth of one kilometre or more, making mining operations more difficult.