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Ukraine Mourns 32 Dead In Mine Accidents

Rescuer workers in Ukraine recovered more bodies Saturday as the death toll from two separate mining accidents in the country’s notoriously perilous coal pits rose to 32.

Fears were rising meanwhile for five miners still missing.

President Viktor Yanukovych announced a day of mourning for Sunday, while Prime Minister Mykola Azarov is to attend a funeral service for victims the same day and meet their relatives.

Twenty-four miners died after an explosion early Friday at the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya coal mine in the eastern Lugansk region, the emergency ministry said, revising an earlier toll of 20.

Two people are still missing.

The toll from a separate accident hours later was also revised, from seven to eight, with three still missing, after a mine headframe collapsed at the Bazhanova pit in the town of Makiyivka in the neighbouring Donetsk region.

The twin disasters were the country’s worst mining accidents since more than 100 miners died in a mine explosion in 2007.

The blast hit the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya mine at around 2:00 am on Friday, in an air passage at a depth of more than 900 metres (2,950 feet), where 28 miners were working at the time, the emergency ministry said.

“The provisional explanation is a methane explosion,” the regional administration said Saturday.

Rescuers have begun clearing gas from an emergency access tunnel into the mine, in order to go down in search of the missing miners, a spokeswoman for the Lugansk regional administration told AFP.

But Albina Kosheleva said there was little hope of finding more miners alive.

“I can’t say anything about this. It is unlikely,” she said.

Two miners pulled from the debris and hospitalised in the city’s burns unit remained in “an extremely serious condition, on the verge of life and death,” Kosheleva added. A third survivor died in hospital on Friday.

Two miners were buried on Saturday and another 15 are due to be buried on Sunday, said Kosheleva.

The prime minister would also hold an official meeting with relatives, she said.

In the other, separate, accident in a state-owned mine in the Donetsk region, a 65-metre-high tower containing the headgear for raising and lowering miners into the shaft collapsed Friday, trapping workers.

“The search and rescue operation is continuing”, said the emergency ministry.

The concrete tower crashed to the ground, collapsing into a mass of rubble, tangled with wires, photographs released by the local emergency ministry branch showed.

Yanukovych interrupted his holiday to travel to the scene of the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya accident late Friday and meet relatives of victims and survivors.

He also called for a government commission to investigate the disasters and to work on improving safety standards to protect miners.

The Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya mine is run by a private holding called Metinvest Group, which is controlled by Rinat Akhmetov — Ukraine’s richest man who bankrolled Yanukovych’s presidential campaign in 2010.

Deadly accidents are frequent in Ukrainian mines, most of which are located in the country’s industrial eastern region. Many of the mines are underfunded and poorly equipped, while safety violations are rife.

Copyright © 2011 AFP

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