Water rises in Russian diamond mine as 8 still trapped

Rescuers at the Mir diamond mine of Russian partially state-owned diamond mining company ALROSA in Mirny, Russia on Aug 4, 2017.
Rescuers at the Mir diamond mine of Russian partially state-owned diamond mining company ALROSA in Mirny, Russia on Aug 4, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

MSOCOW (AFP) - Fears mounted Thursday (Aug 10) for eight miners trapped in a flooded Russian diamond mine for almost a week as water levels rose inside, hampering desperate rescue efforts.

"The water level is continuing to rise in the Mir mine where rescuers have been searching for eight workers for six days," the emergency situations ministry said in a statement, warning that the water is "gradually filling up" the tunnels.

On Friday a torrent of water rushed through the tunnels of the Mir mine owned by Alrosa, Russia's largest diamond producer, after leaking through from a vast disused crater containing some 300,000 cubic metres of water, or the equivalent of 120 Olympic-size swimming pools.

At the time, 151 miners were working at the site in the Sakha region of Siberia, some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) east of Moscow.

Of these, 142 were immediately evacuated and one emerged a day later, suffering from hypothermia. Attempts to communicate with the other eight have been unsuccessful.

Rescuers have struggled to explore tunnels blocked by huge amounts of clay swept through by the flood while water is continuing to enter the mine from the crater, despite efforts to pump it out.

Deputy emergency situations minister Vladlen Aksyonov said Thursday that "the majority of the mine tunnels are completely flooded. We are continuing our work to rescue people, but I repeat, the situation is very complex."

Alrosa said in a statement on Thursday that the accumulation of water in the crater that then enters the mine "does not allow rescuers to work safely." It said it is now trying to drop in large objects to dam the water.

Compensation to relatives

Russia's Investigative Committee has opened a criminal probe into possible violations of safety rules at the mine, which could lead to a jail term of three years.

Meduza independent news site late Wednesday published a transcript of a recording it was given by an anonymous source of a meeting at which rescuers explained the situation to angry relatives of the missing men.

One unnamed woman asks for the mine to take down a sign it has on display saying "People are more precious than diamonds." An unnamed rescue worker was quoted as saying that they had found the bag of one of the missing miners hanging in a tunnel that was dry but do not know where he went from there.

Another rescue worker voiced fears that the men trapped in the mine could only survive a week to nine days at most with little drinking water and no food.

Alrosa has promised to pay 2 million rubles (US$33,400) to the family of each missing miner, whatever the result of the rescue operation.

The company made a net profit of 22.7 billion rubles in the first quarter of 2017.