(The following is a report from The Associated Press)
MOSCOW — A Russian mining disaster near the town of Kemerovo on Wednesday killed at least 21 miners who were checking dynamite packages when explosions ripped through a colliery, the Interior Ministry said.
It said the death toll could rise further because a rescue operation was still underway in the Dokalsnoye mine, about 350 kilometers (225 miles) north of Moscow.
Nine rescue workers were injured in the blasts in a sarcophagus-shaped storage chamber filled with coal, a ministry spokesman said.
The explosions happened in the early hours, reducing the surrounding area to rubble and burying the miners under a thick layer of coal, the spokesman said.
Residents of the remote area stayed home after an order from the regional governor to stay off the streets because of the danger posed by unexploded ordnance and the possible presence of radiation. Helicopters transported the injured to hospitals in the nearby city of Kemerovo.
“It’s a really bad day for Kemerovo, a really bad day for all of us,” Kemerovo’s mayor, Roman Sarafin, told Ekho Moskvy radio.
“We’ve never had an accident like this one. The fire that was set off by the explosion burnt itself out in an hour and a half. Now rescuers are combing through the smoldering debris looking for bodies.”
Kemerovo is one of Russia’s smaller cities but is a key facility for Russia’s state-run mining group, Rosneft. Kemerovo city is located next to Kemerovo-Kursk, the easternmost of five “Alaska” mines in Siberia and one of the most polluting.