26 Miners Trapped Underground After Russian Mine Collapses

PHOTO: Rescue workers are searching for 26 Russia miners missing after two explosions collapsed Severnaya mine in Vorkuta. The entrance is pictured here.Sputnik/AP Photo
Rescue workers are searching for 26 Russia miners missing after two explosions collapsed Severnaya mine in Vorkuta. The entrance is pictured here.

Rescue workers are searching for 26 Russian miners after two explosions caused a mine in the Arctic Circle to collapse.

The men became trapped Thursday and are believed to be nearly a mile underground. The collapse occurred at the “North” mine close to the town of Vorkuta in Russia’s far north. At least four miners were killed during the collapse. Eighty of the miners were successfully brought to the surface, but it’s unclear if the missing 26 are still alive, Russia’s emergency services said in a statement.

The head of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, Vladimir Puchkov, said in a briefing that rescuers currently had no communication with the missing men. He said that the search for them was continuing, but that it was hampered by the presence of potentially explosive gases in some parts of the mine.

A major rescue operation has been launched, with almost 500 emergency workers at the site.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has intervened, ordering a commission to be established to investigate the cause of the disaster and for authorities to pay compensation to the families of those affected. The local government has promised to pay up to $13,000 to relatives of those killed.

Local emergency services told the Interfax news agency that the collapse may have been caused by a so-called "rock burst," which occurs when pent-up pressure suddenly causes rock to violently fracture, resulting in explosions.

The mine is owned by the major Russian conglomerate, Severstal, and is in located near Vorkuta, a mining town in the Arctic Circle, also known as the site of a notorious prison camp under Joseph Stalin.