Severstal Coal-Mine Blast Kills at Least 17 in North Russia

A gas explosion at an OAO Severstal coal mine in Russia’s north killed at least 17, prompting President Vladimir Putin to order the emergencies minister to fly to the site to respond to the disaster.

The death toll increased after another body was found at the site, the Emergencies Ministry’s regional division said on its website. One more miner is missing, and rescue efforts continue, it said.

Five miners escaped to the surface and three were rescued and hospitalized after the blast 800 meters (2,600 feet) underground, where 26 had been working, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on its website. While Severstal said workers had died in the methane blast, it didn’t provide numbers.

Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov traveled to the town of Vorkuta, about 1,890 kilometers (1,175 miles) northeast of Moscow, to co-ordinate the rescue of the miners still trapped, assist families and oversee an investigation, his ministry said.

The explosion is the latest deadly mine accident in Russia after five workers died last month at Siberian Coal Energy Co. operations. In 2010, OAO Raspadskaya’s flagship site was torn apart by blasts, killing 91 workers. Billionaire Igor Zyuzin’s OAO Mechel has suspended its mines in Siberia at least five times during the past two years because of safety concerns.

“Reputational and political risks may be more important than financial losses,” Kirill Chuyko, head of equity research at BCS Financial Group in Moscow, said of the Severstal blast. The company’s coal output is unlikely to suffer much, he said.

Severstal dropped 3.3 percent, the biggest decline since Oct. 23, to $11.75 in London. The Vorkutinskaya mine built in 1973 has annual capacity of 1.8 million metric tons of coal, according to its website.

The Investigative Committee has opened a probe into whether the mine met safety rules, it said.