Severstal Mine Blasts Kill as Many as 36 Workers in Russia

  • May be Russia's deadliest coal mine accident since 2010
  • Technical council concluded there can't be any survivors

As many as 36 people died in what could be Russia’s deadliest coal mine accident since 2010 after a series of gas blasts at a unit of billionaire Alexey Mordashov’s Severstal PJSC led rescue efforts to be called off.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich spoke to reporters at the Severnaya mine in Vorkuta on Sunday, saying up to 36 people can be considered victims, according to Interfax. Efforts to find 26 miners missing after a Thursday blast at the mine were called off after a government-company technical council concluded there can’t be any survivors, Denis Paikin, technical director for Severstal’s Vorkutaugol unit, which operates the mine, said earlier in the day.

Four people were killed after the first blast on Thursday, which triggered a rock slide and blocked exits for workers. Six more people were declared dead on Sunday, including five rescue workers. The mine can now be flooded or depressurized to prevent oxygen from getting into the mine shaft, stopping the fire, Paikin said.

Severnaya is one of the largest coal mines run by Vorkutaugol. Last year, it processed 2.9 million tons of raw coking coal into 1.5 million tons of washed product, making up 27 percent of Vorkutaugol’s total washed coking coal output, according to Morgan Stanley data. The loss of the mine may cut Severstal’s annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization by $24 million, Neri Tollardo, analyst at Morgan Stanley, said last week.

Deaths at Russian coal mines have declined in the past two decades as large steelmakers and industrialists consolidated the industry, investing in equipment to boost production and improve safety. The Severstal accident killing up to 36 people would be the deadliest since 2010, when 91 miners died after methane blasts tore apart Raspadskaya’s flagship mine, owned by Evraz Plc, which is backed by billionaire Roman Abramovich.

The accident is the worst at Vorkutaugol since Severstal took control of the coal company in 2003, according to the steelmaker. A disaster at Vorkutaugol’s mine killed 19 in 2013, Russia’s industrial safety regulator Rostechnadzor said on its website. Severstal spent 360 million rubles ($4.72 million) on the unit’s industrial safety since 2003.

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