MOSCOW — Rescue workers scrambled to save 83 people trapped in Russia's largest underground coal mine after two explosions killed at least 12 people and injured dozens more, officials said. Among those still trapped early today were rescue workers who had entered the Siberian mine after the first blast.
A high level of methane gas after Sunday's second, more powerful blast raised fears of further explosions and prevented more rescuers from going into the mine for the rest of the day.
Only early today was the first rescue team sent down to try to bring out five miners whose location had been established, said Valery Korchagin, a spokesman for the Emergency Ministry. It was not clear, however, whether the miners were still alive, he said.
The second explosion destroyed the main air shaft and all of the mine's above-ground structures, the governor of the Siberian region of Kemerovo told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a meeting with emergency officials, according to a government transcript.
More than 500 emergency workers from around the country struggled throughout the day to ventilate the mine and rebuild mine shafts so the search for those trapped could resume, Korchagin said by telephone from Kemerovo, about 2,000 miles east of Moscow.
By late Sunday, it was still too dangerous to enter the mine because of high levels of methane gas, said Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu, who flew to the scene from Moscow to take charge of the operation. "Now we have to do everything possible to avoid a third explosion," the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as telling miners' families.
Shoigu said emergency workers had identified two areas where those trapped were most likely to be and promised to send in rescuers as soon as an opportunity appeared.
The first blast, believed to have been caused by methane, hit the Raspadskaya mine just before midnight Saturday and the second about 3½ 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 earlier during the meeting with Putin, parts of which were televised.
There was no immediate information on what set off the blast.