Russian officials said 52 miners and rescuers were buried some 250 meters (820 feet) underground in a devastating explosion at a Siberian coal mine.
A methane gas explosion and fire filled the mine with toxic fumes, rescuers found 14 bodies, but were then forced to halt the search for 38 others due to a build-up of methane and the high concentration of carbon monoxide fumes from the fire.
Another 239 people were rescued.
The state TAS and RIA-Novosti news agencies, citing emergency officials, said there was no chance of finding any more survivors at the Listvyaznaya mine in the Kemerovo region of south-western Siberia.
Interfax news agency cited a representative of the regional administration, who put the death toll from Thursday’s fire at 52 and said they died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It was the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire at the Raspadskaya mine in the same Kemerovo region killed 91 people.
There were a total of 285 people at the Listvyazhnaya mine in the early hours of Thursday, when the explosion sent smoke that quickly filled the mine through the ventilation system.
Rescuers took 239 miners to the surface, of whom 49 were injured, and 11 bodies were found.
News reports said that later in the day, six rescuers also died while searching for others trapped in a remote part of the mine.
Regional officials declared three days of mourning.
Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Dmitry Demshin told reporters that the fire was most likely triggered by a methane explosion caused by a spark.
Surviving miners described their tremors as they reached the surface.
“The impact, wind, dust, and then we smelled the gas and began to pass out as much as we could,” Sergei Golubin, one of the rescued miners, said in remarks on television.
“At first we didn’t even know what happened and inhaled some gas.”
Another miner, Rustam Chebelkov, recalled the dramatic moment when he was rescued along with his comrades as chaos surrounded the mine.
“I was crawling and then I thought they were holding me,” he said.
“I reached my arms to them, they could not see me, visibility was poor. He grabbed me and pulled me out. If not for them, we would have been dead.”
Eruptions of methane released from coal beds during mining are rare, but they cause the most deaths in the coal mining industry.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into the fires over safety violations that led to the deaths.
It said the mine director and two senior managers have been detained.
President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences to the families of the dead and ordered the government to provide all possible assistance to the injured.
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