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Russia mine toll reaches 25 as last bodies found

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Sep 10 (Reuters) Rescuers today found the bodies of the last four miners trapped deep underground at a remote Russian gold mine, bringing the final death toll to 25.

Relatives had been keeping vigil on the surface hoping the four might be brought out alive after eight survivors emerged from the pit yesterday.

''We are preparing to bring up the bodies of the last four miners,'' said a local spokeswoman for the Emergencies Ministry.

''Some of the rescue team have left, the rest will stay to ...

make sure the fire has been put out.'' All 33 men trapped when the fire broke out on Thursday have now been accounted for. The mine, owned by London-listed Highland Gold Mining, is in the remote Chita region of Eastern Siberia near the border with China.

The first funerals, for 14 miners, were to take place on Monday.

Most of the miners and their families live in simple wooden houses clustered around the mine. A day of mourning was declared in the Chita region.

The rescue operation involved 300 people, including some flown in from Moscow. Rescuers had to struggle against thick smoke and high temperatures from a fire that they managed to localise but not extinguish.

Russia's state environmental watchdog has announced an urgent safety investigation into Highland Gold's Russian operations, and also into some mines operated by rival gold mining firm Polyus Gold.

SURVIVORS Yesterday, three miners walked out of the mine unaided.

One of the three said they escaped after they felt fresh air in a tunnel and moved towards its source.

They directed rescuers to a second group of five miners who were found alive at a depth of 435 metres.

Russian television showed a weeping woman throwing her arms round the neck of a miner as he stepped out of a lift cage that brought him out of the mine. But after that rescuers found only bodies.

The fire broke out during welding work deep in the central shaft of the mine, one of the oldest in Russia.

Highland Gold shares plunged 11 per cent on Friday, following losses of 4.5 per cent the day before.

The Darasun mine is the smaller of Highland Gold's two operational gold mines in Russia. The complex produced 11,761 ounces of gold in the first half of this year, around 13 per cent of the company's total production.

Highland Gold is one-fifth owned by Canada's Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner. Fleming Family&Partners and its affiliates hold 19.5 per cent and the company's Anglo-Russian management team a further 12.5 per cent.

Polyus Gold, Russia's biggest gold miner, said there was ''nothing extraordinary'' in the investigation into some of its mines by the environmental watchdog.

REUTERS SY BST1529

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