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Russia: 11 Miners Rescued After Being Trapped For Six Days

Moscow, 29 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Eleven Russian miners who had been trapped for six days in a mine in the Rostov region were rescued today, but the good news came as another mine disaster in Russia claimed five lives.

The 11 were among 13 miners trapped since 23 October about 800 meters below the surface when rising water blocked their escape from the mine, in the economically devastated southern Russian town of Novoshakhtinsk. One miner was found dead, and another remains missing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin today praised the work of the rescue team: "I would like to ask the governor of the Rostov-on-Don region to nominate those who took an active part in the rescue for a state award."

The survivors -- their faces and hair coated in black grime -- smiled and waved at the crowds as they were greeted on the surface by waiting relatives. Some were carried out on stretchers, while others were able to walk.

Emergency officials say seven of the survivors have been taken to hospital to receive treatment after the ordeal. The director of the mine, Vasilii Avdeev, is reported to be among those who were saved.

According to the deputy governor of the Rostov-on-Don region, Alexander Bedrik, most of the miners who were saved today are actually in better condition than the 33 who were brought up on 25 October because those miners had spent almost two days in the cold water:

"Their condition is relatively satisfactory. When our rescue teams pulled out 33 miners on Saturday [25 October], their condition was much more serious. They showed symptoms of low blood pressure and hypothermia. All the victims are now being treated. Their lives aren't in danger," Bedrik said.

The shaft in which the miners were working was flooded by icy water from an underground lake. Rescuers reached the remaining miners this morning after drilling 70 meters through rock to the shaft where the men had been stranded. The men were located about three kilometers from the rescue tunnel.

The head of the coal miners' labor union, Ivan Mokhnachuk, told RFE/RL's Russian Service why it was believed the miners could survive for such a long time underground: "Of course, they [must] be physically weakened, but they have water in the mine and specialists say there is enough oxygen. We can imagine their depressed state of mind [down] there, but the fact that there is oxygen means they have a chance to hold out until the rescuers arrive."

In a separate incident today, five miners were found dead after an explosion struck a mine shaft in Russia's far eastern Primorye region. Emergency officials say the rest of the 71 miners working at the time were rescued, but that several are in serious condition.

Putin said mine disasters are becoming what he called "systematic" in Russia and called for the government to look further into the situation: "You know, there is a another tragedy going on, this time in the Far East region. We will have to handle it carefully, and today we will examine again this issue with the chairman [Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov] of the government when we meet separately."

Officials say a buildup of methane gas caused the explosion in Primorye.