The death toll from two explosions in Russia's largest underground coal mine rose today to 30, with about 60 people still trapped, state media reported, citing the government official heading the rescue operation.
Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the news at a briefing after rescue workers were able to go down into parts of the Siberian mine hit by two blasts over the weekend, Rossiya 24 television said.
High levels of methane gas have raised fears of further explosions and hindered rescue efforts. Shoigu said a further danger is posed by rising water levels in the deep mine, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Investigators believe the 17 bodies discovered early today were rescue workers who had entered the mine after the first blast, RIA Novosti said. The second more powerful blast destroyed the main air shaft.
The first blast, believed to have been caused by methane, hit the Raspadskaya mine just before midnight Saturday and the second about 3 hours later. There were 359 workers below ground at the time of the first explosion, the Emergency Ministry said. A total of 58 people were injured.
Most managed to get out, but after the second blast, 64 miners and 19 rescue workers were trapped underground and all communication with them was lost, Shoigu said yesterday.
More than 500 emergency workers from around the country raced throughout the day yesterday to restore ventilation to the mine and rebuild mine shafts so the search for those trapped could resume. The first rescue teams entered the mine early today.
The Raspadskaya mine is located in Kemerovo, a coal mining region in western Siberia located about 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers) east of Moscow.
There was no immediate information on what set off the blast. Mine explosions and other industrial accidents are common in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and are often blamed on inadequate implementation of safety precautions by companies or by workers themselves.