At least 11 people have been killed and 43 injured in an explosion caused by a fire that broke out in a coal mine in the Kemerovo region of Siberia, while dozens are still trapped underground, authorities say.
Hundreds have already been evacuated from the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Kuzbass region, the Emergency Situations Ministry said, before announcing the temporary suspension of rescue operations “due to the risk of an explosion.”
“Some 236 people have been taken to the surface so far,” the ministry’s press service said.
Local paramedics said four people were in serious condition, two of them suffering from smoke inhalation.
Kemerovo region Governor Sergei Tsivilev said that “there is no communication” with those who remained underground. The Kremlin said that President Vladimir Putin had been informed about the incident.
According to the Baza news website, rescuers tried to reach the miners who remain trapped, but couldn’t because of heavy smoke.
Russian news agencies said 39 miners were currently listed as missing.
Ten of the dead were found on the conveyor belt that transports the coal to the top, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Miners are trained to jump on the conveyor belt in case of an emergency, the correspondent said.
Tsivilev said on his Telegram channel that the death and the injuries were caused by the explosion.
At least 287 people were inside the mine early in the morning when the fire started, according to the owner of the mine, SDS-Ugol, one of Russia’s largest coal companies.
Reports say a possible cause of the explosion, which happened at a depth of 250 meters and did not cause destruction, could have been the ignition of coal dust in the ventilation shaft, which led to the smoke spreading throughout the ventilation system.
Putin has ordered officials to do everything possible to limit the proportions of the tragedy, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“The president instructed the regional governor and acting Emergency Situations Minister Aleksandr Chuprian to arrange assistance for the injured and make every possible effort to continue the rescue operation,” Peskov said.
The Listvyazhnaya mine was opened in 2003.
With reporting by Reuters and TASS