Explosion and fire at coal mine in Kazakhstan leaves 36 dead

Horror explosion and fire at coal mine in Kazakhstan leaves 36 dead as hunt continues for 10 missing people

  • Chances of finding the missing persons alive are ‘very low,’ rescuers warned

Kazakhstan is in nationwide mourning after 36 people died in a fire at a mine in Karaganda owned by steel giant ArcelorMittal on Saturday, the worst such disaster in years, which has prompted the nationalisation of the company’s local affiliate.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said at 10.00 am local time (0400 GMT), ‘the bodies of 36 miners were found and 10 workers were still being sought’.

The chances of finding them alive are, however, ‘very low,’ the rescuers warned the previous night, due to the lack of ventilation in the mine and the force the explosion, which spread over two kilometres.

Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev travelled to the scene of the incident on Saturday and ordered cooperation with ArcelorMittal be ‘brought to an end’.

Speaking to victims’ relatives at the Karaganda mine in the country’s centre, Tokayev called ArcelorMittal ‘the worst enterprise in Kazakhstan’s history in terms of cooperation with the government’.

Emergency services at the scene following the fire at a mine in Kazakhstan owned by steel giant ArcelorMittal

The scene after the fire at the mine. The chances of finding the missing persons alive are ‘very low,’ the rescuers warned the night before, due to the lack of ventilation in the mine and the force of Saturday’s explosion, which spread over two kilometres

The Kazakh government and the steel giant announced a preliminary agreement to ‘transfer ownership of the (local) firm in favour of the Republic of Kazakhstan’, Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov stated.

‘ArcelorMittal can confirm that the two parties have… signed a preliminary agreement for a transaction that will transfer ownership to the Republic of Kazakhstan,’ the steel corporation stated, adding it was committed to ‘finalising this transaction as soon as possible’. 

Last month First Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar told reporters that Kazakhstan was in talks with potential investors who could take over the mill.

He said the cabinet was unhappy with ArcelorMittal’s failure to meet its investment obligations, upgrade equipment and ensure worker safety after a series of deadly accidents.

On Sunday, flags were at half-mast to mark the day of national mourning declared by Tokayev.

It is second fatal incident in the last two months at a site operated by ArcelorMittal in Kazakhstan. 

In August, four miners died after a fire broke out at the Karaganda mine. 

In November last year, five people died and four others were hospitalised after a methane gas leak at a mine in the same area. 

Ambulances parked at the coal mine, in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, on October 28, 2023

Distraught family members of miners from the Kostenko mine, in Karaganda, Kazakhstan

Distraught family members of the miners

Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev addressing a speech to employees and relatives of miners at the Kostyenko coal mine in Karaganda

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, about 200 miners have died in Kazakhstan, the vast majority at ArcelorMittal sites.

ArcelorMittal, led by Luxembourg-based Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, operates some 15 factories and mines in the centre of the former Soviet republic. 

The group’s arrival in Kazakhstan in 1995 was initially seen as a beacon of hope in the economic slump that followed the fall of communism.

But a lack of investment and inadequate safety standards were repeatedly criticised by the authorities, while trade unions called for tighter government control.

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