Saturday, 26 May, 2007 Current Events

Russian Mine Blast at Novokuznetsk (coverage)


Early morning, on May 24th, 217 people, workers at the "Yubileynaya" mine in Novokuznetsk in the Kemerovo Oblast (Russia), got into the elevator to go deep down the mine and collect more coal for their country. However, the scenario was rewritten at approximately 7:30 AM Moscow Time (4:30 AM GMT).

At approximately 520 meters (about 1700 ft) deep down the mine a highly dangerous gas - methane - exploded.

By the end of that day 38 people were reported dead and the rest 179 miners were evacuated - 7 of them with serious injuries; one of them was in a critical condition with a serious head injury and burns. These reports were given at 16 PM Moscow Time the same day.

About the same time the rain stopped. It started right after the explosion was heard.

Russian authorities have initiated an investigation of the case, lead by Rostehnadzor, an institution for security and safety issues at hazardous places of work. The results of the investigation is expected to be ready not earlier than two weeks.

The Governor of Kemerovo Oblast, Aman Tuleev, suggested that the blast could be caused by a breach in the coal-bed. According to him, 23 technicians, controlling the level of methane in the air, were also in the mine. He stressed that the explosion came absolutely unexpected, as the concentration of methane in the air in the mine had a normal level.

This tragedy happened just two months after an explosion at the "Ulianovskaya" mine, where 110 miners found their death.

Both the "Yubileynaya" and the "Ulianovskaya" mines are part of the "YuzhKuzbassUgol" union. A half of this union belongs to the metallurgic group "Evraz". After the Ulianovskaya blast, the upper mentioned Rostehnadzor threatened withdrawing the license for mining, because of discovering serious violations safety rules.

The investigation at the "Ulianovskaya" mine showed that the automatic system for methane level control was set up for a higher than normal level of methane concentration. According to one of the versions, the system was too sensitive to increases of methane concentration, therefore it automatically shut down the main power supply and hence overall productivity losses.

After that investigation several people have lost their jobs and have been punished, yet here is another tragedy that Russian miners have to face.

Rostehnadzor intended to close the "Yubileynaya" mine twice this year, but the court, which was appealed to in this issue, declined the request and let the mine proceed its extractions. However, the security institution managed to halt extractions in certain sections of the mine, among others sections 16-15, where the actual explosion happened.

Not so long before the incident, regional authorities, along with Rostehnadzor, were fighting to withdraw the license for 'industrial safety' from "YuzhKuzbassUgol". The company's administration replied that the mine is equipped with modern mine security systems, which were fully functional at the moment of explosion.

The mines of "YuzhKuzbassUgol" extract about 18 million tons of soldering coal, 900 thousands of which are extracted by "Yubileynaya" and the accident of this mine increases its chances to be closed. However, experts say that if a decision will be reached and the mine will have to be closed, this won't happen, at least not for a long time. The "YuzhKuzbassUgol" extracts a fourth part of the coal in Kuzbas, and a fifth part in the whole country, which makes the mines of the company of extreme national importance.

The accident has also aroused a wave of concern among the leaders of the country. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, demanded that the heads of coal extracting companies respected and followed all the rules of industrial security.

The company's administration still claims that the mine, except for the exploded section, is fully functional.

The "YuzhKuzbassUgol" promised to pay the families of the dead miners one million rubles (about $40,000) each. In addition, the Government promised to provide material support too, thus every family will be paid about 2 million rubles. Local authorities also plan to organize a center for solving various social and household problems of the dead miners' closest relatives.

Today, Saturday, May 26th, the miners have been honored with funeral processions. The material part of the funerals was taken by "YuzhKuzbassUgol".

The 38 dead miners were aged between 18 and 55 years. The youngest of them, Daniil Ilyin, the mine's mechanic, celebrated his 18th birthday in February; Boris Titov had his 55th year of live celebrated two weeks before the tragedy. Aman Tuleev, Governor of Kuzbas, was also present at the funerals.

Local administration has assigned a social worker and a psychologist to every family for moral support.

Due to the funeral processions the local television changed its schedule: all entertaining shows have been withdrawn.

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