Flooding and explosive methane gas are complicating efforts to rescue dozens of Russian miners trapped deep below ground in the Kemerovo region of Siberia. At least 31 miners are known to have perished in the disaster.
About 59 lives are threatened by rising flood waters 500 meters below ground at the Raspadskaya coal mine in the Siberian town of Mezhdurechinsk. The disaster is believed to have been caused by a methane-gas explosion late Saturday.
Russia's Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu says the blast destroyed pumps, causing water to gush in at the rate of 2,000 cubic meters per hour. Shoigu says the deadly methane gas presents another dilemma.
Shoigu says a decision must be made whether to switch on additional ventilation systems, because ventilation not only increases the oxygen supply, but also the risk of explosion.
Officials say time to save the miners will run out by Wednesday.
More than 350 workers were below ground when disaster struck. Most managed to get out, but about 40 were trapped. At least 17 of the victims were rescue workers killed after entering the mine before it was hit by a second explosion. More than 500 people are involved in the rescue operation.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered the Finance Ministry to pay nearly $33,000 in compensation to families of victims. Those severely injured are to receive more than $13,000. Individual with moderate injuries are to be paid nearly $7,000.
The Raspadskaya mine is reported to be Russia's largest mine. The company says it supplies Russian industry and also exports coal to Ukraine, Romania, Hungry and Bulgaria. It is also exploring markets in India, Japan and South Korea.
Mining accidents are relatively common in Russia, where the mining infrastructure is old and safety standards are lax.