Da The Moscow Times del 21/09/2006
Originale su http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2006/09/21/002.html

54 Dead in Blasts at 2 Coal Mines

Fifty-four miners in Kazakhstan and Ukraine were killed in twin blasts Wednesday, providing further evidence of the dangerous state of decades-old mines in former Soviet republics.

In Kazakhstan, at least 41 people were killed when an underground explosion tore through a coal mine belonging to Mittal Steel, a senior company official said.

The Lenin mine, where the blast occurred just before 9 a.m. local time, is one of eight mines supplying coal to Mittal's Temirtau factory, one of the world's biggest steel plants and Kazakhstan's largest.

"According to preliminary but almost certain data, 41 people have perished," Grigory Prezent, deputy coal department director of Mittal Steel Temirtau, told reporters at the scene.

"Thirty-two bodies have been found. They are being recovered at the moment," he said.

The steel plant in the central region of Karaganda, 200 kilometers south of the capital, Astana, continues to work as normal, a company source said, and the accident would not affect customers.

"The head of state, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has expressed his condolences to the families of the ... miners who died as a result of an accident in the Mittal Steel Temirtau mine," Akorda.kz, the presidential web site, said in a posted statement.

The blast occurred at a depth of 500 meters, and 324 miners working underground were able to scramble to safety, local media reports said. The ensuing fire continued to blaze.

The Lenin mine, a labyrinth of seven shafts, was commissioned in 1964 and was the scene of a November 2002 gas explosion in which 13 miners were killed.

The Temirtau steel plant accounts for some 4 percent of Kazakh gross domestic product and is the nation's single largest corporate employer, with its 55,000-strong workforce.

Mittal's Indian-born billionaire owner, Lakshmi Mittal, paid about $400 million for the steel plant, formerly known as Karmet, in 1995. By 2007, it plans to have invested around $1.4 billion modernizing the site, which ships around 40 percent of its production to China.

Temirtau has an annual design capacity of 6 million tons of steel, while the plant's coal-mining units can extract up to 12 million tons of coal annually.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, a methane gas leak killed 13 coal miners and injured at least 61 at a mine in eastern Ukraine, officials said.

That was the fourth major accident to hit the Zasyadko mine in the Donetsk region in seven years, and again focused attention on the dangers of Ukraine's poorly funded and outdated mining sector.

Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Ihor Krol said "an unexpected eruption of a coal-and-gas mixture" -- later identified as methane -- occurred early on Wednesday morning at a depth of 1,078 meters when 400 miners were working underground. Forty-nine miners were trapped.

Rescuers working through the morning managed to save 36 of them, bringing the injured men to the surface for medical treatment. The bodies of 13 others were found, Krol said. Another 351 miners were evacuated from safer areas of the mine, but 25 of them also sought medical help, Krol said.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuev, who rushed to the site to take charge of the rescue efforts and official investigation, said there had been no explosion and no fire, and the victims died from methane poisoning.

"The methane probably emanated from rocks," he said in televised remarks.

He said the rescued miners all showed signs of methane poisoning.

Initially, Krol said 400 other miners who were also working in the mine at the time of the blast had been evacuated. But later, he said 150 remained underground in a different part of the mine not affected by the blast. Krol said they were not considered not to be in danger and that crews were working to bring them to the surface.

Relatives and friends of the miners gathered around the central entrance to the mine, which was crowded with emergency vehicles.

Ukraine has some of the world's most dangerous mines, due to outdated equipment and poor safety standards. Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, nearly 4,300 miners have been killed in accidents. Officials say that for every million-ton of coal brought to the surface in Ukraine, three miners lose their lives.

The Zasyadko mine has earned a reputation as one of the most deadly. In 2002, a methane explosion killed 20 miners. A year earlier, 54 died, also in an explosion of methane gas. In May 1999, 50 miners were killed in a methane and coal-dust blast at Zasyadko.

The Zasyadko mine is reportedly linked to Ukraine's richest man, steel-and-coal magnate Rinat Akhmetov.

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