Polish mine explosion kills 8

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Methane gas was blamed for the explosion deaths of 8 miners in southern Polish‘s Halemba coal mine Tuesday, November 21. Officials say at least 15 are missing.

Rescue efforts were halted because dangerously high levels of methane gas returned, according to Zbigniew Madej, spokesman for state-owned Coal Co., which operates the mine.

The missing miners’ locater devices were not emitting signals, increasing rescurers’ concerns for their well-being. Grzegorz Pawlaszek, head of Coal Co., said the 15 missing miners’ fate is “not known,” but added that “there is a chance to find someone still alive.”

“This is a tragedy. People have died here,” Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said when he came to Ruda Slaska to see the blast.

Earlier Wednesday, a reconnaissance rescue team descended 3000 feet toward the blast scene, only to retreat because of safety concerns related to high methane gas levels. Rescue digging efforts were also halted because of explosion concerns.

The missing men were aged 21-59. One of the miner’s family members, Andrzej Pytlik, 30, remained on scene with his sister, hoping and waiting for news of her husband, Krystian Gaszka.

Pytlik, also a miner, said through teary eyes that, “I work in the mines and I know that hope is scant because that’s the truth.”

The explosion occurred in a closed portion of the mine where the now-missing miners were working to retrieve abandoned equipment. According to Pawlaszek, the value of the equipment was $23 million, adding that “It was new equipment and that is why we decided to retrieve it.”

He indicated that the recovery work was performed under the supervision of gas detection specialists, and that the bodies of the recovered miners were difficult to identify because of the severity of burns and because their ID tags were blown away in the explosion.

The Halemba mine, located in Ruda Slaska, has produced coal for nearly 50 years, has been fraught with safety concerns and has a track record of serious accidents. One of the oldest mines in Poland, it is centrally located in the industrial Silesia region.

Earlier this year, a miner was trapped underground in the Halemba mine five days after a cave-in. In 1990, 19 miners were killed and 20 hurt in a gas explosion, and five were killed in collapse in 1991.

Inside, priests and mining officials were comforting and counseling with distraught relatives. Outside, eight white candles flickered on a main gate wall.

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