Blast at Russia coal mine kills 18

A deadly explosion at a coal mine in the remote Russian Far North, within the Arctic Circle, left 18 people dead so far, said Monday the country’s Emergency Situations Ministry.

Today’s underground methane blast, the latest disaster to hit Russia’s mining industry, happened at the Vorkutinskaya mine, owned by local steel producer Severstal, in the Komi region, reports The Associated Press.

Rescuers said they had brought 10 bodies to the surface and that they feared there might be several more, as there were about 260 people at the pit at the time of the explosion, with 23 in the shaft where it took place.

According to Severstal’s website, in 2011 the Vorkutinskaya mine won a corporate award for “worthy working conditions – the basis for respect in the workforce.” However, local authorities have already opened a probe into suspected violation of safety rules at the operation.

Deadly blasts, which are usually caused by a build-up in methane gas, are not uncommon in the area, home to one of the most infamous Stalin-era prison camps, the Vorkuta Gulag.

In 2010, more than 60 people died in twin methane blasts at Russia’s largest underground coal mine, the Raspadskaya mine, in the Kemerovo region of Siberia.

(Vorkutinskaya mine via YouTube)