_44246295_rescuers_afp203b.jpg_44246295_rescuers_afp203b.jpg

There is no chance of finding survivors in the Zasyadco mine in Ukraine, a senior union official has said. Rescuers are still searching for over 20 miners trapped underground after the blast that killed more than 70 others.

But raging underground fires have thwarted rescue efforts in the Zasyadko mine in the eastern Donetsk region. Sunday’s blast, caused by a build-up of methane gas, occurred more than 1,000m (3,280ft) below ground in what was one of Ukraine’s worst accidents in years. Hundreds of desperate relatives rushed to the mine after hearing the news.

There was a bang, the temperature surged, and [there was] thick dust. You could see absolutely nothing Vitali KvitkovskiZasyadko miner

As grim-faced mine officials later emerged to announce the names of the victims, many in the crowd began weeping and several fainted. The head of the Ukrainian Free Miners’ Union, Mihailo Volninets, said it was now certain that all the missing men had died, says the BBC’s Laura Sheeter, in Kiev. Local authorities have now declared three days of mourning for the blast’s victims.

Methane inhalation At least 360 of the more than 450 miners who were below ground when the explosion happened at 0300 (0100 GMT) have now been rescued, emergency officials say.

_44246568_ukraine_don_map203.gif

One survivor described how he had to clamber over his dead colleagues along rail tracks to escape from the mine. Some 28 miners are now being treated in hospitals, many suffering from methane inhalation. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych travelled on Sunday to the scene of the accident. He told reporters there had been a cave-in at the accident site, and that fire and smoke were also obstructing rescuers.

He also said a safety watchdog had reported that miners were working in accordance with regulations. “This accident has proven once again that a human is powerless before the nature,” Mr Yanukovych said, according to the Associated Press news agency. President Viktor Yushchenko arrived in Donetsk on Monday to chair a session of a commission investigating the disaster.

Mr Yushchenko’s office earlier quoted him as saying that the government had “made insufficient efforts to reorganise the mining sector, particularly the implementation of safe mining practices”. Poor record As fears grew, relatives gathered at the mine entrance trying to find news of their men. “I’ve come here to collect my grandson,” one woman told Reuters.

“I accompanied him to work yesterday. Now I want to take him home.” One miner, Vitali Kvitkovski, told the BBC that just before the explosion, he had checked his instruments and the methane levels seemed normal. “I was walking to the coal layer. There was a bang, the temperature surged, and [there was] thick dust.

You could see absolutely nothing,” Mr Kvitkovski said. Ukraine’s coal mines are among the most dangerous in the world, with a high number of fatal accidents.

Miners’ pay varies according to the volume of coal produced, giving them an incentive to ignore safety procedures that would slow production, one union official said. Anatoly Akimochkin told AFP most disasters were caused by concentrations of methane, which can occur suddenly. In September 2006, a gas leak at the Zasyadko coal mine, one of Ukraine’s largest, killed 13 miners and injured dozens more.

* BBC World, Nov. 2007