11 killed as fire guts Russian coal mine

BAKU, Russia — A fire at a coal mine in the Russian Far East killed 11 workers and left dozens trapped in an area more than two miles from the surface, officials said Monday.

Miner Kaz Minerals, the owner of the Tatiana mine in the Kuznetsov region, said it could take days to help rescue the missing workers.

The fire started Sunday morning in a mine tunnel. The nearest tank to contain the gas was about 800 meters (yard) away, and it had no oxygen. Coal mine shafts are not required to have a water system.

“Firefighters from the region have spent 12 hours extinguishing the fire in the tunnel and limiting its spread,” the Emergencies Ministry said in a statement. It said that the mine also has high-voltage power, allowing it to create its own electricity and retain it until rescue workers reach the site.

The Emergencies Ministry said a part of the Tatiana mine will also be equipped with air quality monitors.

The incident is the latest in a series of mine disasters in the oil-rich Russian Far East over the past year. Last June, 32 people were killed in a methane gas explosion at the Platets coal mine in Akmola region, near Siberia.

According to the Russian Coal Association, the country has 44,670 underground coal mines with 69,323 workers, making it the world’s second-largest coal mining country behind China. The association projects global coal demand to increase 6 percent annually until 2035.

The prospect of a colder winter leading to greater coal consumption this year has also increased demand for the fuel in the Far East, which began to open up to mining in the 1990s. The region produces 50 million tons of coal annually.

Russia’s economy relies heavily on oil and gas, and those sources have limited growth prospects. The country’s government has proposed raising the minimum wage by 15 percent this year, while President Vladimir Putin has also proposed subsidizing gas production in the Arctic.

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