A methane explosion ripped through a coal mine before dawn Wednesday in war-torn eastern Ukraine, killing at least 17 workers, officials said.
Miners arriving for work were enlisted to assist with what started as a rescue mission, but gradually became an operation to retrieve a mounting number of dead. That effort was hampered by limited access to the deep subterranean network.
The explosion at the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk, an eastern city under the control of Russian-backed separatists, wasn’t caused by shelling, rebel authorities said. Eastern Ukraine has been wracked by fighting between government forces and Russian-backed rebels for almost a year, a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people.
The blast occurred more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) underground as 230 workers were in the mine, separatist authorities in Donetsk said in a statement, blaming a combustible mixture of methane and air — a common cause of industrial mining accidents. The bulk of those laborers were evacuated after the explosion.
Yuliana Bedilko, a representative for the rebel-managed rescue services, said one body had been brought to the surface in the morning and that another 16 were located below ground by Wednesday evening.
Rebel officials had said earlier that 32 workers were unaccounted for, suggesting 15 still remained trapped. – Nataliya Vasilyeva, Associated Press