At least 30 people were killed in twin methane gas explosions in a coal mine in Siberia, a minister said on Monday. “As of present, 30 people have died and 60 people, whose fate is unknown, remain in the mine,” Russian Civil Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by the news agency Ria Novosti. The first explosion occurred at around 11:55 pm on Saturday (1655 GMT) and a second followed a few hours later as a rescue operation was underway at the mine near Kemerovo, operated by the Raspadskaya company.

The 20 rescuers who were called in to free 64 trapped miners after the first explosion also became trapped during the second explosion.

Seventeen bodies, believed to be some of the rescue workers, have already been recovered, the Ria Novosti report said, quoting investigators. Officials from the public prosecutor’s office on Sunday announced an investigation into possible breach of occupational safety rules.

Mr. Shoigu flew from Moscow to the disaster area to coordinate the rescue operations.

In two of the areas where people are thought to be trapped, the draining system has been destroyed, posing a risk of flooding, Mr. Shoigu told Ria Novisti. The ventilation in the shaft was also knocked out of order, and further explosions were possible due to the high concentration of methane. Contact was lost with rescuers after the second explosion, officials said.

At the time of the first explosion late Saturday, 359 miners were below ground, officials said.

At least 282 miners were able to leave the mine after the explosions.

The Raspadskaya coal mine which opened in 1973 is the largest of its kind in Russia with 300 kilometres of shafts. It produces eight-million tons of coal a year for domestic needs as well as for export to Ukraine and Asia.

In the former Soviet Union there are often serious mining accidents resulting from inadequate safety standards.

In 2007, an accident in a nearby mine in Novokuznetsk claimed 110 lives, the worst mine accident in decades in Russia.

The Raspadskaya mine has had five casualties from accidents in the past decade, according to the Ria Novosti report. In 2008, authorities closed the mine for two weeks following numerous violations of safety regulations, the report said.

Keywords: Gas blasts

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