, MOSCOW, May 10 – Rescuers made a desperate final effort Monday to find 60 miners and salvage workers still missing deep inside a Russian mine, over a day after double methane gas explosions that killed 30 people.
Salvage workers overnight discovered the bodies of 17 fellow rescuers who had gone into the mine to save miners after a first explosion late Saturday but then had themselves been trapped by a second blast hours later.
Conditions at the Raspadskaya mine, Russia\’s largest underground coal mine in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia, remained treacherous for the rescue workers with high gas concentrations and a risk of further blasts.
"According to the latest count, 30 people have died and 60 others missing are still trapped in the mine. We are still conducting searches," said Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, quoted by Russian news agencies.
A dozen miners had been confirmed as dead in the initial blast. Rescue work had been put on hold throughout Sunday with officials saying the mine was so dangerous that sending people in would be a virtual death sentence.
The first blast went off late Saturday at around 1700 GMT, while 370 people were working underground, and the second around two hours later — after rescuers had entered the mine to bring survivors to the surface.
"Seventeen rescue workers were found (in the searches overnight) and unfortunately they are dead. We are continuing searches and still hope to save people," said Shoigu.
Shoigu admitted the rescue effort was hampered by rescue workers not being able to allow as much air into the shaft as they would like since the flow of additional oxygen could increase risk of further explosions.
"Unfortunately we have very many restrictions about where (in the mine) we can work and where we cannot."
But he said that electricity and ventilation had been restored to the mine.
Shoigu warned that rescue work remained dangerous due to the high levels of gas in the mine shaft but while "there are risks they are not so high" as on Sunday.
Officials insisted there was still hope of finding people alive but there has been no contact with those trapped.
State television pictures showed the explosions had been so powerful that they reduced the surface infrastructure of the mine to smoking wrecks.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Sunday described the situation as tragic and sternly told rescue officials "not to sit on their hands" despite the difficulties, and do all they could to save people.
Loved ones of the miners in tears and agony outside the management offices of the mine in the town of Mezhdurechensk where a list of the missing had been pinned up.
Raspadskaya is part-owned by steelmaker Evraz, a company 36 percent-owned by Chelsea Football Club\’s billionaire chief Roman Abramovich.
A company source told ITAR-TASS that there had been a sudden build-up of methane gas inside the mine and the miners had no time to escape before the explosion.
A criminal investigation has been launched for negligence of security rules while President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Putin to set up a commission to battle the disaster.
Deadly mine accidents are relatively common in Russia because of ageing infrastructure and violations of safety regulations.
Russia has been blighted in the past few years by tragedies at energy facilities, most notably a flood at Russia\’s largest hydroelectric plant in August that killed 75 people.
The latest tragedy cast a shadow over celebrations in Russia Sunday for the 65th anniversary of victory in World War II which Moscow hoped would remind the world of its status as a great power.