YEKATERINBURG (Reuters) -- At least eight Russian miners died when explosives detonated today during transport through an underground iron mine owned by Evraz Group, the latest disaster to afflict the industry.
One miner is still missing after the blast, which occurred 180 meters below the surface and stopped production at the Yestyuninskaya mine near the city of Nizhny Tagil in the Ural mountains, Evraz said in a statement.
Russia's mining industry has been plagued by disasters in recent years, the result of years of post-Soviet neglect and lax enforcement of safety regulations, as workers often cut corners in pursuit of production-related bonuses.
"All work at the Yestyuninskaya mine has been stopped. All staff have been evacuated," Alexei Agureyev, Evraz Group's vice president for public relations, said in the statement.
Evraz, whose shareholders include billionaires Roman Abramovich and Aleksandr Abramov, is the largest steel producer in Russia in terms of the volumes it produces domestically.
The Yestyuninskaya mine, one of four mines belonging to Evraz subsidiary Vysokogorsky GOK around Nizhny Tagil, is a supplier of raw materials to the huge steel plant in the city.
Evraz said an investigation was under way to determine why the explosives detonated.
Regional Emergencies Ministry spokesman Alexander Sorokaletovskikh said 123 people had been in the mine at the moment of the blast and that 114 were safely evacuated. The number of missing or dead tallies with that given by Evraz.
"Preliminary information indicates that the cause of the blast was a breach of rules governing the transportation of explosives," Sorokaletovskikh told Reuters by telephone.
Evraz in particular has been afflicted by mining disasters. Nearly 150 people died in 2007 in two separate methane gas explosions at Siberian coal mines, both of which were part-owned by the company at the time, then fully acquired.
Evraz Group's domestic steel rival, Severstal, also lost at least eight miners in a methane gas explosion in a mine near the Arctic city of Vorkuta, also in 2007.
Another 12 people died in December 2008 at a mine extracting raw materials for fertilizer production. The accident at the Arctic mine, part of the PhosAgro fertilizer group, occurred when workers were laying explosives for a controlled blast.
Russia is the world's fifth-largest iron ore miner and its untapped reserves of the mineral, a vital raw material in steel making, are the biggest in the world.