At least 33 people have died in the worst mining accident in years in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. After a devastating explosion in the Kostenko coal mine in the area of ​​the industrial city of Karaganda, 13 missing miners are still being sought, said the deputy head of the state rescue service, Gennady Silinski.

A methane gas explosion occurred in the pit on Saturday morning while more than 250 miners were underground, operator Arcelormittal announced on Saturday. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a nationwide day of mourning for Sunday.

Around 20 injured people had to be treated in hospital after the mine accident, it was said. Rescuers said they had little hope of finding survivors. The pressure wave from the explosion spread over two kilometers in the shaft corridors, said Silinski. It is also difficult to identify the dead.

Allegations against steel company

The Kazakh authorities accused the international steel company Arcelormittal of serious negligence in the face of the new disaster. The safety of the workers was not guaranteed. President Tokayev traveled to the scene of the accident and expressed his condolences to the families of the dead at a gathering. He promised the survivors financial help.

At the same time, Tokayev ordered to end the partnership with the investors. He placed the company under state administration and appointed a new company manager. Accordingly, there should also be a change of ownership. Arcelormittal is threatened with losing its business in the resource-rich steppe state.

In total, operations in eight Arcelormittal coal mines were temporarily suspended in order to check the devices to protect against the highly explosive mine gas, it was said. The company expressed its condolences to the relatives of the dead and promised help. According to authorities, the families of the survivors will receive extensive social benefits, including an apartment and compensation amounting to ten years’ salary at the company’s expense, as well as education for children.

According to Arcelormittal, more than 200 of the 252 workers had come to the surface of the mine shaft. It is the worst mining accident in years. There were repeated fatal incidents in the company’s coal mines. According to official figures, more than 100 people have died in the Arcelormittal properties alone in the past 15 years. In 2006, 41 miners died in the Lenin coal mine, the worst accident to date.

Kazakhstan, which is also rich in oil and gas, is an important supplier of raw materials for a large number of countries. Germany, for example, purchases oil from the former Soviet republic, which reaches Europe via the transit country Russia.