A devastating explosion at a Siberian coal mine on Thursday killed 52 miners and rescuers about 820 feet below the ground, Russian officials said.
Within hours of the methane gas explosion and fire filling the mine with toxic fumes, rescuers found 14 bodies but then the fire forced methane and carbon monoxide gas to accumulate, forcing the search for 38 others. Another 239 people were rescued.
The state-run Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies quoted emergency officials as saying there were no further survivors at the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia.
The Interfax news agency quoted a spokesman for the regional administration as saying that the death toll from Thursday’s crash had risen to 52, adding that they had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
It was the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire at the Raspadskaya mine in the same Kemerovo region killed 91 people.
A total of 285 people were at the Listvyazhnaya mine early Thursday when smoke billowed from the blast, which quickly filled the mine with ventilation systems. Rescue workers rescued 239 miners, of whom 49 were injured.
Later in the day, six rescuers were killed while searching for others trapped in a remote part of the mine, reports said.
Regional officials have declared three days of mourning.
Russia’s Deputy Prosecutor General Dmitry Demechin told reporters that the fire was probably caused by an explosion of methane.
Surviving miners described their shock after reaching the surface.
“Impact, wind, dust. And then, we smelled gas and just started coming out, as much as we could,” Sergei Golubin, one of the rescued miners, said in a televised remark. “We didn’t even realize what happened first and took some gas.”
Another miner, Rustam Chibelkov, recalled the dramatic moment when he was rescued with his colleagues when chaos broke out in the mine.
“I was crawling and then I felt like they were catching me,” he said. “I put my arms around them. They couldn’t see me. I had poor eyesight. They grabbed me and pulled me out. If it weren’t for them, we would be dead.”
Explosions of methane emitted from coal beds during mining are rare, but they are the leading cause of death in the coal mining industry.
The Interfax News Agency reported that miners usually have an oxygen supply of up to six hours, which can be extended to just a few hours.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into arson violations that led to the deaths. He said the mine’s director and two senior managers had been detained.
President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the families of those killed and ordered the government to provide all necessary assistance to the injured.
Listvyazhnaya mine was not the first fatal accident on Thursday. In 2004, a methane explosion killed 13 miners.
In 2007, a methane explosion at the Ilyanovskaya mine in the Kemerovo region killed 110 miners in the deadliest mining accident since the Soviet era.
In 2016, methane explosions at a coal mine in the far north of Russia killed 36 miners. In the wake of the incident, authorities analyzed the safety of the country’s 58 coal mines, declaring 20 or 34 percent of them potentially unsafe.
According to media reports, Listoyazhaya Kan was not among them at the time.
Russia’s state technology and environmental watchdog, Rostekhnadzor, inspected the mine in April and reported 139 violations, including violations of fire safety regulations.