Eight killed in Polish mine blast

Lee Glendinning
Wednesday 22 November 2006 01:43 GMT

Eight miners have been killed and up to 15 are feared trapped 3,300 feet underground after a suspected gas explosion in southern Poland coal mine yesterday.

Officials lost contact with the men at the Halemba coal mine in Ruda Slaska as they were removing a wall in an underground corridor.

There were 23 men in the area at the time. Eight bodies were being brought to the surface last night, according to an official at the Central Mining Rescue Station, which is leading the rescue effort.

Those still trapped underground are likely to be enduring extreme conditions, with temperatures of about 40C. While they all had their own breathing apparatus, it was not clear how long they could hold out without outside help.

Four rescue teams were attempting to reach the remaining men but officials have signalled this is likely to be extremely difficult and could take a number of days. A police spokesman said the blast, which may have been caused by methane, occurred in a shaft about 1 kilometre deep.

Zbigniew Madej, from the Southern Mining company, said the rescue involved 15 people digging their way through 500 yards of rubble to reach the survivors. The ventilation systems had been damaged, he added.

"The situation is very, very serious. We hope we will find them safe and sound," he said.

The families of those trapped by the blast gathered around the mine, and were being comforted by local priests. Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was flying to the site last night.

The mine is one of the oldest in Poland and has been in operation since 1957.

Earlier this year, a miner was rescued at the same mine after he spent five days underground after a gas explosion. More than 80 miners have been killed in the country's coal and copper mines since 2003.

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