Thirteen dead after fire in Czech mine

Prague (AFP) –


Thirteen miners died and 10 were injured after a methane gas fire erupted in a coal mine in the east of the Czech Republic, the worst accident of its kind there in nearly three decades.

The fire broke out at a depth of 880 metres (2,800 feet) at the CSM mine in the city of Karvina, about 300 kilometres (190 miles) east of Prague and close to the Polish border, on Thursday afternoon.

"In total, we have 13 dead miners, 12 Polish and one Czech," Ivo Celechovsky, spokesman for the OKD mining company, told AFP.

Nada Chattova, a spokeswoman for the hospital in the nearby city of Ostrava, said two men had been treated at its burns centre, including one fighting for his life.

"One was brought in by helicopter, he is still in a critical condition. The other one is in a stable condition and his life is not in danger," she told AFP.

One miner with lighter injuries was taken to a hospital in Karvina and seven were treated on the spot, Czech media said.

"Thirteen miners have not made it to the surface. It's impossible for any of them to survive," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters after visiting the site on Friday.

"I'm terribly sad," Morawiecki said, adding that Poland would take care of the bereaved families and of those who have survived.

He said Poland had sent in a rescue team but that the operation had stopped because of high temperatures in the mine and the danger of further explosions.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda declared Sunday a day of national mourning.

- 'Feel like crying' -

OKD spokesman Celechovsky said the fire was still burning and barriers were being put up to stop it from spreading, with work expected to continue at least until Sunday.

Sympathy poured in as miners lit candles for their dead colleagues at the site and a black flag hung opposite the entrance to the mine.

"It is with great sadness that I learned of the tragic incident in a coalmine in Czechia," said European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

European Union President Donald Tusk, who is Polish, tweeted that "our thoughts and hearts are with you today."

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the blast a "huge tragedy" in a tweet, while President Milos Zeman said he was "immensely saddened" by the accident.

Babis also called on OKD to come up with a compensation plan for the affected miners' families, adding the state would step in if OKD does not find a way.

Bohuslav Machek, an inspector at the Czech Mining Authority, told AFP the cause of the fire was uncertain.

"There must have been some source, some spark, which ignited the methane," he said.

"There are more possibilities, but at this point it is pure speculation," he added.

Celechovsky said on Thursday the dead Polish miners were from the Poland-based Alpex mining company.

"We're one big family, it's a terrible tragedy," a Czech miner told the local Polar TV.

"I was supposed to be there, I work with these teams every day. They sent me to work somewhere else today," said a Polish miner.

"I feel like crying," he told Polar TV.

OKD, which runs the mine, is controlled by the Czech state.

The accident is the most serious at a Czech mine since 1990 when 30 miners died after a methane explosion at another mine in Karvina.