Four days on, rescuers try to reach 13 trapped in flooded mine by tunnelling from another shaft

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The Independent Online

Rescue officials believe that 13 miners trapped deep underground for four days in Russia could still be alive, as long as they have an air supply. Workers were tunnelling their way to the miners from another mine shaft yesterday in an attempt to save them.

Rescue officials believe that 13 miners trapped deep underground for four days in Russia could still be alive, as long as they have an air supply. Workers were tunnelling their way to the miners from another mine shaft yesterday in an attempt to save them.

Alexander Kornichenko, deputy chairman of the Russian mine safety authority, said: "In our estimation there are 23 to 24 metres left for the rescuers to pass to get to the trapped miners. The prognosis is rather comforting and we expect the rescuers to reach the miners in the early hours of [today]."

On Saturday, 33 exhausted miners were brought to the surface but emergency workers were unable to locate the position of 13 others in the Zapadnaya mine in Novoshakhtinsk, southern Russia.

The miners were working 800 metres underground on Thursday when water from an underground lake leaked into a shaft above them, blocking their way to the surface. Despite efforts to plug the flow of water into the dam, new torrents flooded into the shaft on Monday, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. Hundreds of tons of rock, soil and reinforced concrete pillars were dumped into the shaft to seal the leak but water continued to flow into the mine despite their efforts.

An emergencies ministry official said yesterday that the water was pouring in at the same rate as before.

Mr Kornichenko said: "At present, a group of military mountain rescuers is working to get into Zapadnaya mine from the side of another mine. The rescuers are digging the tunnel in the direction where the trapped miners are expected to stay."

He added that rescue officials believed the miners had found a dry place to stay, that temperatures in the mine were 24C and there was no danger they would freeze. But he said that there was a danger of exposure to cold because water in the mine was evaporating into the air. "As long as they have oxygen and water, they have a chance to survive," he said. "We are doing everything possible, and even impossible, to find all of the miners alive."

There were 71 miners working in the Zapadnaya mine in the Rostov-on-Don region, about 1,000km south of Moscow, when the accident happened. Twenty-five miners managed to escape to other pits and reach the surface after the leak filled several shafts. According to Itar-Tass, it was the second such accident at the Zapadnaya mine this year. It said that water had flooded the mine in February but there were no people inside at the time.

Accidents are common in the Russian coal industry, and miners have frequently staged protests over delays in paying wages and the decline in safety standards.

According to Russia's Independent Coal Miners' Union, 68 miners were killed last year and a total of 98 in 2001.

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