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33 Are Rescued at Mine in Russia

October 26, 2003|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Thirty-three cold and exhausted miners who spent nearly two days trapped underground in a southern Russian coal mine were brought to the surface and sent to a hospital Saturday, but hopes faded for an additional 13 that rescuers could not locate.

Rescue teams using inflatable boats explored partially flooded mine shafts late into the evening Saturday in search of the missing group. But as water from what Russian media described as a huge underground lake continued to pour into the mine, the rescuers were ordered back out shortly before midnight.

It was unclear whether they would be sent in again today to continue the search. Workers continued to dump truckloads of rock and soil into the main mine shaft in an effort to halt the flooding. But specialists quoted by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass said that if the flow of water continued at the rate of Saturday evening, the entire mine would be flooded by Tuesday morning.

There were also efforts to pump water from the shafts. At the peak of Saturday's operation, about 100 rescue workers were in the mine.

The 13 missing men were believed to be trapped about half a mile underground. The mine's director and deputy director were among the missing. Numerous branch tunnels added to the difficulty of the search.

Improper maintenance of closed mine shafts in the area had apparently allowed a large buildup of underground water, Russian media reported. It was the second case this year of flooding at the Zapadnaya mine in Novoshakhtinsk, a town in the Rostov region, about 600 miles south of Moscow.

As of late Saturday evening, work continued on carving an evacuation tunnel crossing a distance of about 70 yards from an adjacent mine to shafts where it was hoped the 13 miners had found refuge.

"How can I not hope?" Nadezhda Churbanova told ORT Television as she waited to learn whether her husband was in the group of 33 that was located early Saturday but only slowly brought to the surface in a small elevator normally used for inspections. "We have two children and have lived together for 22 years. You cannot say you have no hope."

Relatives called out to the rescued miners across police lines. Reunions took place at the hospital.

Vladimir Katalnikov, a union leader, told Itar-Tass that there had been no panic among the 33 miners. He attributed their survival to their "firmness of spirit." Many of the men had wet clothing from hours spent standing in water in partially flooded shafts.

Several miners were reported in "serious" condition, but most were described as "fair." Many suffered from exposure, stress and a shortage of oxygen in the tunnel air, authorities said. Some were placed on stretchers when they emerged from the mine, but others were able to walk.

The flooding began Thursday afternoon. Of 71 miners in the shaft at the time, 25 succeeded in quickly reaching the surface.

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