Scores Dead In Ukrainian Coal Mine Explosion
Monday, November 19, 2007
MOSCOW, Nov. 19 -- An explosion almost certainly caused by a buildup of methane gas tore through a coal mine in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, killing at least 63 miners in what has become a deadly pattern in the mining industries of the former Soviet Union.
At least 37 miners remained missing in the accident, which occurred 3,300 feet below ground near the city of Donetsk, Ukrainian officials said early Monday.
Emergency officials said the explosion sparked a deadly fire that damaged the mine's ventilation system and was preventing rescue workers from reaching parts of the mine where workers might be stranded.
By nightfall Sunday, as distraught relatives gathered nearby, 39 bodies had been recovered and officials acknowledged that the chances of finding people alive were slim. Officials said that more than 360 miners were evacuated after the 3 a.m. explosion and that 25 remained hospitalized.
Almost every month brings a new report of deaths in Ukraine's mines, which like mines across the former Soviet Union, including Russia, are plagued by safety violations. Since the fall of communism in 1991, 4,700 Ukrainian miners have been killed in accidents, according to government statistics.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych flew to Donetsk, his political heartland, where a three-day period of mourning was declared.
"There is a blockage at the accident site formed by a cave-in, air shafts and water channels," Yanukovych said. "This is being cleared."
President Viktor Yushchenko, Yanukovych's main rival, said he would visit the area Monday. The president's office released a statement charging that the Yanukovych government had made "insufficient efforts to reorganize the mining sector, particularly implementation of safe mining practices."
Post-Soviet Ukraine's worst mining accident occurred in 2000, when 80 miners were killed in a dust explosion in Luhansk, also in the industrial eastern part of the country.