MAC: Mines and Communities

At least 66 dead in Russian coal mining disaster

Published by MAC on 2010-05-20
Source: Reuters, New York Times, AFP, Aljazeera

Coal mining has claimed yet more lives this year, this time in Siberia, following methane gas explosions on 8th May..

The steel making giant Evraz owns a 40 percent stake in the Raspadskaya Coal Company (Evraz also part owned the Ulyanovskaya and Yubileynaya mines, where 110 and 38 died respectively, in explosions in 2007, as well as a December 2009 disaster). See: and

Those protesting about the deaths (and unpaid wages while the mine is out of action) were arrested by police.


Russian mine death toll hits 60; 30 still missing


12 May 2010

MOSCOW - Rescuers working through the night found eight bodies but no survivors in a stricken Siberian coal mine on Wednesday after powerful weekend blasts that killed at least 60 people, emergency officials said.

Thirty workers were still missing three days after the explosions in the massive Raspadskaya mine in Mezhdurechensk, in the Kemerovo region about 3,000 km (1,850 miles) east of Moscow.

Hopes of finding any alive were fading fast as grieving relatives buried the bodies of victims recovered from the mine.

Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said rescuers were trying to make their way to the remotest corner of the sprawling mine, the Interfax news agency reported.

"We have 24 hours to bring miners out of there, if there are any there," Shoigu was quoted as saying.

An explosion authorities said was a methane gas blast ripped through the mine late on Saturday, followed hours later by a stronger blast that wrecked the mine's main ventilation shaft and badly damaged buildings on the surface.

The disaster was the deadliest in a Russian mine since 110 people died after a methane blast at the Ulyanovskaya mine, also in the Kemerovo region, in March 2007.

Damage Estimates

Aman Tuleyev, the governor of the Kemerovo region, said material damages from the blast would likely exceed 5 billion roubles ($165 million).

"We calculate that damages from the destruction of the buildings above the mine are 700 million roubles and that inside the mine it is about 5 billion roubles," Interfax quoted Tuleyev as saying. "This isn't a final figure."

He estimated that it would take about 8 months to repair the damage. However, the Kemerovo region's press service on Tuesday cited mine owner Raspadskaya's director, Gennady Kozovoy, as saying it could take several years to fully restore operations.

Raspadskaya declined to comment on Wednesday. But Interfax quoted its deputy director Vladimir Goryachkin as saying the company planned to fully restore the most badly damaged section of the mine within eight months.

Shares in the company, Russia's largest stand-alone coking coal producer, plunged 23.4 percent on the MICEX exchange on Tuesday, but recovered some of these losses on Wednesday, with the shares trading up 5 percent at 0940 GMT.

Raspadskaya says its mine is Russia's largest underground coal mine, and analysts said the disaster could affect supplies and drive up prices in a tight market.

Raspadskaya produced 13 to 14 percent of total Russian coking coal concentrate output in 2009, supplying Russian steel giants Evraz, MMK and NLMK, Citigroup analysts said in a research note on Tuesday.

Analysts at Troika Dialog said the accident would likely hurt steelmakers Evraz and NLMK in addition to Raspadskaya.

The mine could be out of operation for a month or two and is unlikely to reach full capacity until the fourth quarter of 2010, they said in a research note on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman and Alfred Kueppers; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Putin Suggests Human Error in Mine Disaster

By Ellen Barry

The New York Times

11 May 2010

MOSCOW - As the mining city of Mezhdurechensk began to bury its dead, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin flew to the site of the disaster in western Siberia, vowing to discover whether human error or lax safety standards had contributed to one of the most lethal mine disasters here since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Relatives and friends of a victim of the Raspadskaya mine blast took part in a funeral ceremony on Tuesday in Mezhdurechensk.

By Wednesday morning, 60 bodies had been retrieved from the mine and 30 were still missing.

It is unclear how methane built to such dangerous levels inside Russias largest underground coal mine, which is equipped with modern sensors and safety equipment. Management has said that sensors reported normal methane levels when the first explosion rocked the Raspadskaya mine on Saturday night, and government officials have said the most likely explanation is an enormous underground burst of gas what one expert called a mystery of nature.

Miners, on Internet forums and in interviews with Russian newspapers, offered a more prosaic explanation: that by covering methane sensors with wet rags or quilted work coats, they could continue working, increasing production and their potential earnings even as methane levels crept up.

Mr. Putin himself suggested on Tuesday that the human factor someones careless treatment of fire, as he put it could have caused a first small explosion, which set the stage for a second one that trapped 86 miners and rescue workers underground.

It is not just the families of killed miners and rescuers who need these answers we all need them, Mr. Putin said in a meeting on Tuesday with officials. We must know what caused this large number of deaths this enormous tragedy.

Rich coal deposits in the Kuzbass region, about 2,000 miles east of Moscow, are accompanied by potentially lethal concentrations of methane. Mining companies balance these factors off one another, sometimes linking workers pay to the amount of coal extracted. Ruben M. Badalov, first deputy chairman of the Russian Coal Miners Trade Union, said this policy motivated workers at the Ulyanovskaya mine to block top-of-the-line sensors with wet clothing, which contributed to a 2007 explosion that killed 110.

It made things easier for management, because the workers became more motivated, said Mr. Badalov, who was part of the investigative team in that accident. Dangle a carrot in front of a donkey, and he begins to work for this carrot.

The steel making giant Evraz owned a 50 percent stake in the company that operated the Ulyanovskaya mine and another site, the Yubileynaya mine, where 38 workers died in an explosion two months later, in May 2007.

Evraz also owns a 40 percent stake in the Raspadskaya Coal Company; a spokesman for the company, Aleksei N. Ogureyev, said Evraz was a portfolio investor and had no control over management of the mines. Shares in the Raspadskaya Coal Company plunged 23 percent in trading in Moscow on Tuesday. Officials vowed to restore and reopen the mine, but said the work could take years.

The Raspadskaya mine produces 12 percent of Russias coking coal, which is used in steel production. In 2008, government inspectors cited the mine for safety violations involving conveyer belts and rail transport, and forced it to close for 15 days. In January of this year, one miner was killed when ceiling supports collapsed.

Still, Mr. Badalov, of the miners union, called the Raspadskaya one of the most modern in the world, and said its workers monthly pay, about $1,100, was high in the industry. He said he was convinced that equipment failure was not the cause of the blast, and guessed that a large deposit of methane had leaked into the mine with the first explosion, accumulating over the next four hours until it burst into a fireball so powerful that buildings above were blown to pieces.

We could be looking at a sudden emission of methane as large as tens of thousands of cubic meters, said Vadim Potapov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Coal and Coal Mining, in an interview with Itar-Tass. That kind of emission taking place deep underground could be considered a mystery of nature.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 12, 2010, on page A6 of the New York edition

Protest at Russian mine blast site, 28 arrested


15 May 2010

MOSCOW - Twenty-eight people were arrested when Russian authorities cracked down on a protest in a Siberian coal-mining town where at least 66 people died in explosions last weekend, officials said Saturday.

Media reports said more than 20 people had been injured late Friday evening after police clashed with the protesters, who had blocked a railroad in the disaster-struck town of Mezhdurechensk.

"Negotiations with regional government officials and police led to nothing. Soon afterwards, riot police began removing people from the railway. Rocks and bottles were thrown at the police," Russia's investigative committee said in a statement.

"Twenty-eight participants in the protest were taken to the Mezhdurechensk police station," the statement said.

The investigators' statement said that at least six police officers had been injured in the clashes in Mezhdurechensk, located in Russia's coal-rich Kemerovo region.

Earlier, Russian news agencies quoted Kemerovo police chief Alexander Yelin as saying that 22 people had been injured in the clashes, including 17 police officers and five protesters.

Russia's private Ren-TV television channel showed dozens of riot police with shields approaching the protesters in the night, while some young men threw rocks in response. It also showed a woman with a bloody face.

The liberal Echo of Moscow radio station reported that 200 people, including women and children, had blocked the railroad on Friday to demand better working conditions for coal miners after last weekend's tragedy.

At least 66 people were killed and 24 people remain missing following a pair of methane gas blasts on May 8 in the Raspadskaya coal mine, Russia's largest undergound coal mine, located in Mezhdurechensk.

The tragedy drew attention to complaints from Russia's coal miners that they work in dangerous condition for little pay.

"It is the fault of the authorities that they pushed people onto the rails," Ivan Mokhnachuk, head of Russia's independent coal-miners union, told Echo of Moscow on Saturday.

"When people are kept in the dark, when their questions are not answered, when they are left alone, when every day there are dozens of funerals and the authorities do not want to talk, a situation arises where people are displeased," he added.

State television mentioned nothing about the protests in Mezhdurechensk, which is located in the Kemerovo region of southern Siberia.

Russia's state-owned RZD railroad company announced that movement along the railway in Kemerovo had been restored, without explaining why it had halted in the first place.

Around 20 trains were delayed because of the protest, the investigative committee said.

Russians arrested in mine protest


15 May 2010

Russian police have arrested 28 people after clashes during a protest in a Siberian mining town, where at least 66 were killed after a series of explosions last weekend.

At least 200 people had blocked a railway line in Mezhdurechensk on Friday evening, calling for better working conditions for coal miners, the Echo of Moscow radio station reported.

Alexander Yelin, the regional police chief, said that his officers moved in to disperse the protesters as their actions were illegal.

"Only after negotiations were exhausted, only after the governor and the interior minister gave their consent, did the riot police start the special operation to remove violators of public order," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Yelin said that 22 people were injured during the protest, including 17 police officers and five protesters.

Russia's Ren-TV television channel showed dozens of riot police with shields approaching the protesters, while some young men threw rocks at them. It also showed a woman with a bloody face.

Gas explosions

At least 24 people are still missing after methane gas explosions at the Raspadskaya coal mine, Russia's largest undergound coal mine, on May 8.

The search for the missing men was suspended on Thursday because of heavy concentrations of methane and fires in the tunnels.

There have been no reports of any contact being established with the missing miners, who were believed to be about 450 metres underground at the time of the explosions.

Mine explosions and other industrial accidents are relatively common in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and are often blamed on inadequate implementation of safety precautions by companies or by workers.

Union leaders said that highlighted the dangerous conditions and poor pay of Russian miners.

"It is the fault of the authorities that they pushed people onto the rails," Ivan Mokhnachuk, the head of Russia's independent coal miners union, told Echo of Moscow on Saturday.

"When people are kept in the dark, when their questions are not answered, when they are left alone, when every day there are dozens of funerals and the authorities do not want to talk, a situation arises where people are displeased."

The governor of the Kemerevo region appealed for calm and promised the miners they would be paid while the coal mine remained out of action because of clearing up operations after the disaster.

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