GRAMOTEINO, Russia: Rescuers were forced to stop a search on Thursday for dozens of people missing after an accident that saw a Siberian coal mine filled with smoke, killing at least 11.
Officials said the search and rescue effort had to be called off because of the threat of an explosion at the Listvyazhnaya mine.
The mine, near the village of Gramoteino in the Kemerovo region, filled with smoke in the early hours of Thursday with 285 people inside.
Many were able to evacuate, but at least 11 died and 46 people were still underground, local governor Sergei Tsivilev said on Telegram.
Local investigators said smoke spread across the mine at around 8:35 am local time (0135 GMT) and that "a number of workers suffered smoke poisoning".
A source in the emergency services told state news agency TASS that dust in a ventilation shaft caught fire, causing the mine to fill with smoke.
Tsivilev said in a video on Telegram that there was "no communication" with the trapped miners and that a search mission had been launched.
He later said the operation had to be called off due to a dangerous concentration of methane in the mine and the "high likelihood of an explosion".
"Work will resume as soon as the gas concentration decreases to a safe level," Tsivilev said.
He said 49 people were in hospital with injuries, some in critical condition.
Village residents gathered in snowfall and sub-zero temperatures outside the entrance to the mine, which was closed off with a boom gate, as ambulances passed in and out of the site.
There was no panic but the crowd was tense and refused to speak to journalists.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed President Vladimir Putin's "deepest condolences" to the families of the dead.
The acting head of the emergencies ministry, Alexander Chupriyan, said he was travelling to Kemerovo on Thursday.
The Listvyazhnaya mine was set up in 1956 and is owned by the SDS-Ugol company based in the city of Kemerovo.
A methane blast in 2004 killed 13 people at the mine and another explosion at the site killed five people in 1981, according to Russian media reports.
Mining accidents are fairly common in Russia and across the former Soviet Union as a result of poor safety standards, a lack of oversight of working conditions and ageing Soviet-era equipment. - AFP