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Russian Rescuers Race Against Clock to Reach 13 Trapped Coal Miners - 2003-10-27

Rescuers in Southern Russia are racing against time to reach 13 coal miners who have been trapped 800 meters underground since last Thursday.

The 13 men still missing in the Zapadnaya mine in Russia's Rostov-on-Don region have not been heard from in four-days, and are believed to be without food or electricity and to have very little oxygen.

Rescuers are digging with only hand tools, through dirt and rock, in a frantic effort to reach the men through tunnels from an existing mine located about 60 meters away. At the same time, the rescuers are trying to stem rising water levels, which are predicted to completely flood the mine shaft on Tuesday.

Among the missing is the mine's new director, who was making his first visit to the shaft since being appointed.

A total of 71 miners were working underground when water from an underground lake started leaking into the shaft above them, forcing mine operators to shut down electrical power and stranding the men below ground. Twenty-three miners managed to reach the surface immediately, and another 33 were rescued Saturday.

Nine miners of the 33 rescued during the weekend were released from the hospital on Monday. The rest are still recuperating, but doctors say they are in generally good condition.

The Governor of Rostov-on-Don says the families of all those who suffered in the accident will be paid nearly 12,000 rubles each, or roughly $400.

Accidents are common in Russia's aging and underfunded mines, which claim about 250 lives each year.