DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Rescue workers located 24 miners alive after a gas explosion at a Ukraine colliery and were bringing them slowly to safety on Monday.
They were still searching for 12 other miners missing after Sunday’s explosion. One miner was found dead.
Footage from the pit showed survivors being taken away on stretchers with serious burns, blackened faces and broken limbs.
Officials at the Donbass coalfield said two miners had been brought to the surface more than 24 hours after the blast caused widespread damage to the Karl Marx pit.
By late afternoon, officials said another nine miners had been lifted to the surface at the pit in Yenakiyevo, northeast of the regional centre Donetsk. One was in serious condition.
“This is a narrow shaft and the process is going to take a long time, several hours,” Marina Nikitina, spokeswoman for the regional mine safety inspectorate, told Reuters. “We hadn’t even dared hope for this number.”
First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov, the most senior government official at the site, said rescuers had now pushed down to the 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) level underground.
“We will talk about people being saved only once they are safe on the surface,” he told reporters.
Gas explosions are a frequent occurrence in Ukraine’s mines, many of which are unprofitable and date from the 19th century. Many coal deposits are at a depth of 1 km or more, making mining operations more difficult.
President Viktor Yushchenko, long at odds with his on-again, off-again ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said the explosion exposed the government’s failed policies.
“This accident reflects all the key problems of the coal industry which have gone unsolved for years,” Yushchenko said in a statement read at a briefing. “The state of the industry has worsened and the profession of miner has become a deadly one.”
The first two miners to be rescued were found 750 metres underground at the mine, in operation for the past 110 years.
“Those further away from the explosion could have survived. It’s less likely for those closer to the shaft,” survivor Nikolai Vitenko told Fifth Channel television.
“There was a young guy sitting by the water pump. It looked as if his head had been blown off. We survived simply because we were further away. There was huge destruction. Carts and pipes were blown apart.”
Five staff on the surface suffered burns and other injuries in the explosion, described by veteran miners as one of the most powerful experienced in the industry.
The Karl Marx mine was one of 23 where work had been suspended to check on documented safety violations and only restoration and repair work was permitted.
Fifth Channel quoted officials as saying miners were extracting coal in violation of the rules. Dangerous gas concentrations of gas were detected shortly before the blast.
Eleven miners were killed in the last explosion in the Donbass coalfield two weeks ago. Three blasts at the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk late last year killed 106 men in two weeks.
Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Stephen Weeks