Gas blast kills 31 coal-miners in Ukraine

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The Independent Online

At least 31 coal-miners were killed in an explosion in a shaft in Ukraine yesterday. The government declared a three-day period of mourning as rescuers sought five men believed to be trapped deep underground in a dangerous fog of smoke, methane gas and fire.

At least 31 coal-miners were killed in an explosion in a shaft in Ukraine yesterday. The government declared a three-day period of mourning as rescuers sought five men believed to be trapped deep underground in a dangerous fog of smoke, methane gas and fire.

Rescuers flooded the shaft with water and nitrogen gas in an attempt to extinguish the blaze so they could reach the men, as relatives waited at the pithead. "We still have hope,'' said the mother of one missing man. Twelve men escaped.

More than 50 rescuers struggled all yesterday with raging fires, high concentrations of poisonous gases, heavy smoke and temperatures in the tunnels that reached up to 50C, one rescuer told Associated Press. Officials say it could take two days to extinguish the fires.

Forty-eight miners were almost 1,000m underground on Monday night at the notoriously unsafe Krasnolimanskaya mine in Donetsk, in the east, when a mixture of methane gas and coal-dust spontaneously detonated. It was the country's worst mining disaster in two years. The Ukrainian Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovich, said the government would do all it could to help the dead men's families as he set off to visit the mine.

"Death has taken from us miners who in these complicated times brought warmth and light into the homes of millions of compatriots by their heroic labour," he said. "The warm memory of the dead miners will always remain in our hearts."

In 2001, nine miners were killed at Krasnolimanskaya pit, one of Ukraine's most productive, and four more in the following two years. Since Ukraine became independent in 1991, more than 3,700 Ukrainian miners have lost their lives in similar accidents. That, say experts, equates to seven dead miners for every two million tons of coal produced.

Ukraine is among the deadliest places in the world to be a coal-miner, with 75 per cent of its pits being officially classified as dangerous. Outdated equipment, high concentrations of methane gas and lax safety rules make them a death trap, and many miners are so poverty-stricken they disable their methane gas detectors so they will not have to stop work for safety checks.

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