More than 50 people were reported to have died Thursday after smoke filled a Siberian coal mine and a rescue effort ended in tragedy.
Senior managers at the mine in Russia’s Kemerovo region had been detained for suspected safety violations, after the latest deadly accident to hit the country’s vast mining industry.
Russian news agencies quoted local authorities as saying that 52 people were dead, including miners and six rescuers who had been part of an aborted search operation.
“According to preliminary information, no one is left alive in the mine,” state news agency TASS quoted a source in the local emergency services as saying.
The Listvyazhnaya coal mine, near the town of Belovo 3,600 kilometers east of Moscow, filled with smoke early Thursday with 285 people inside, Governor Sergei Tsivilev wrote on his Telegram channel.
The emergency services told Interfax that 239 miners were evacuated following the explosion, which happened at 04:30 a.m. Moscow time.
Search-and-rescue efforts for the trapped miners were suspended due to high methane concentrations and the risk of another explosion.
A team of six rescuers sent to find the trapped miners stopped responding to communications, the emergencies ministry said. Interfax quoted a local official as saying they had suffocated.
According to regional authorities, 38 miners have been hospitalized with injuries and another 13 are being treated for their injuries on an outpatient basis.
RIA Novosti reported that three of those hospitalized are in critical condition.
Deputy Prosecutor General Dmitry Demeshin was quoted as saying that the incident was the result of a methane explosion caused by a spark.
But some Russian media reported that dust in a ventilation shaft caught fire, causing the mine to fill with smoke.
The governor declared a three-day mourning period in the region beginning Friday.
Alexander Sergeyev, the head of Russia’s Independent Miners’ Union, blamed the incident on “sheer carelessness” toward safety rules by mine owners and management.
“And now they are shifting the blame onto the workers again. This is a systemic problem when people go into anything for the sake of profit,” he told the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid.
Law enforcement authorities opened a criminal case into the violation of industrial safety requirements that resulted in a person’s death.
The Investigative Committee said that the 47-year-old mine director, 59-year-old first deputy director and 36-year-old site manager have been detained as part of the case. If charged, they face up to seven years in prison.
“During the initial investigation, it was established that the detainees violated industrial safety requirements,” the committee said in a statement.
The Listvyazhnaya mine is owned by SDS-Ugol, one of Russia’s top three coal producers.
AFP contributed reporting.