Recriminations fly after Russia mine disaster kills 36

29th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Relatives of some of the 36 victims of Russia's worst mining disaster in years on Monday blamed the management for ignoring worries over methane levels, while officials suggested it was an unavoidable natural catastrophe.

Thirty miners died after two blasts ripped through the Severnaya coal mine north of the Arctic Circle on Thursday and six rescuers were killed by another explosion during an ill-fated search operation on Sunday.

Russia's Investigative Committee has opened a criminal probe into the disaster -- the deadliest to hit the accident-prone industry since 2010 -- and dispatched investigators and forensic experts to look into possible safety violations.

Deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich said on Monday that preliminary indications showed a sudden surge of methane appeared to have caused the incident and that no monitoring system could have stopped it.

Mine operator Vorkutaugol -- a unit of steelmaker Severstal which is headed by Russian billionaire Alexei Mordashov -- has said safety measures were recently ramped up at the facility.

But miners and relatives of those that died insisted there had been concerns over the levels of methane in the pit and that workers feared something serious could go wrong.

"My father was coming home and warning about the strong fumes and the high level of methane," said Daria Tryasukho, whose father was one of the miners killed.

"He talked about this almost every day but the management at Severnaya closed their eyes and let people go underground," she wrote in a posting online.

- 'A lot of gas' -

Miner Mikhail Momot has been on break from working in the Severnaya mine since November but his older brother Konstantin was killed in the blast.

Momot said workers had regularly noticed discrepancies between the amount of methane registered on monitors in the mine.

"It was systematic that the amount of methane shown on the official monitors set up in the mine and our own individual monitors didn't coincide," Momot told AFP.

"The management couldn't not know about this."

"Since the beginning of February, the guys were telling me that there was a lot of gas but they had to go on working," Momot said.

"The bosses usually reply that if you don't want to work, you can quit. But where could I go?"

But a Vorkutaugol spokeswoman insisted it was impossible to tamper with methane readings and that a state supervisor checked them daily.

"It is absolutely impossible to falsify information from the monitors," Tatyana Buskhova said, adding that the miners' individual monitors would differ from the stationary ones because they are moving constantly.

In 2013, 19 miners died at a neighbouring mine run by the same company when a methane blast tore through a pit there.

Grigory, a miner at the Severnaya pit, said he has never seen anyone tamper with a methane recorder and that safety measures have been ratcheted up in the mine since the 2013 incident.

"Every one here is very careful," Grigory told AFP. "I think there was just a natural surge of methane and that all the people died."


© 2016 AFP

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