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Death Toll Rises To 32 In Russian Mine Disaster

Russian rescue workers search for survivors on May 9 at the Raspadskaya mine, a massive complex that includes some 400 kilometers of mine shafts.

Russian rescue workers search for survivors on May 9 at the Raspadskaya mine, a massive complex that includes some 400 kilometers of mine shafts.

Rescue efforts are continuing at a Siberian coal mine where twin explosions this weekend killed at least 32 people and injured dozens more.

Some 60 people are believed to be still trapped in the mine, where rescue efforts have been hindered by dangerously high levels of flammable gas.

Raspadskaya's shafts run some 400 kilometers in length under Siberia's southern Kemerova region, making the mine larger than the entire Moscow metro system.

Eighteen of those killed were rescue workers who entered the mine after the first explosion only to be killed when a second blast ripped through the complex several hours later.

Compounding the problem for both the missing miners and rescue workers is the difficulty in restoring ventilation to the underground shafts, some of which run 500 meters deep.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said some electricity and ventilation had been restored to the mine but admitted rescue efforts were hampered by the risk that increasing the oxygen flow could cause additional explosions.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke on May 9 of the importance of restoring air supplies to the mine.

"The situation is difficult, even very difficult, and tragic," Putin said. "I want to ask all the colleagues not to sit around waiting for air to get into the mine by itself, but to make the maximum efforts to save people, which means taking technological measures to restore ventilation to the mine as soon as possible."

The director of the Raspadskaya coal company, Gennady Kozovoi, said today it could be May 11 before the ventilation system is fully functional.

Experts above ground are still trying to determine the cause of the explosions. Raspadskaya officials insisted today that methane levels in the mine prior to the first explosion were normal, seemingly contradicting early reports. Vladimir Goryachkin, the mine's deputy director, also defended the mine's ventilation system, saying it was German-made and had been in operation only 10 months.

Goryachkin made his comments to reporters as he was visiting some of the more than 50 injured miners recovering in local hospitals. Six other miners with serious injuries were evacuated to the burn unit of a Moscow hospital. Psychologists and counselors have also been sent from Moscow to join their colleagues in Kemerovo to help the families of those killed or injured in the explosions.

The Raspadskaya coal company, which is partly owned by steel maker Evraz, has already pledged millions of rubles in compensation to victims' families.

The weekend blasts are the deadliest mine accident in Russia since May 2007, when 39 people died as the result of a methane explosion at Yubileinaya, another Kemerovo coal mine.

compiled from agency reports