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Rescuers Try to Save Russian Miners

Rescuers in Southern Russia have been trying to save 46 miners, who have been trapped underground in a flooded coal mine since Thursday night. [Eleven of the miners were rescued Saturday, 25 Oct 2003. - ed.]

About 50 mining disaster rescue specialists are dumping concrete slabs, metal and rocks into the main shaft of the Zapadnaya mine, in Russia's Rostov-on-Don region, in an effort to stop icy water from filling any more of the mine's shafts.

Seventy one miners were working at a depth of 800 meters Thursday evening, when water flooded into the shaft. Mine operators were forced to shut down electrical power, leaving the men without an elevator to get out.

On Friday, Russian television broadcast pictures of miners' relatives crying and huddling in the rain, as they await word of their loved ones.

One miner, out of 19 who made it to the surface safely, said the situation was horrible, with a wall of water moving at high speed and with heavy force. He said the rush of water flattened everything and everyone in its way.

Overnight and into Friday, rescue experts worked to bore tunnels from neighboring mines to the trapped men. Their exact location is not known, nor is the status of their air supply. And, the men are without food.

The rescue effort is complicated, because the nearest mine shaft is reported to be 60 meters away. Experts estimate it could take up to two more days of drilling to reach the trapped men.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed immediately about the accident, the second at the Zapadnaya mine this year. In February, water also broke through to the mine, but there were no people working underground at the time.

President Putin has called for coordinated efforts to bring the men to safety.

About 250 miners die underground every year in Russia, and at least 13,000 are injured. The nation's mines are said to rank behind only China and Ukraine for frequent fatalities, poor safety practices and outdated equipment.