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Eight dead, 15 trapped after Polish mine blast

Written by: Staff
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RUDA SLASKA, Poland, Nov 22 (Reuters) A gas explosion killed at least eight miners and trapped around 15 others underground in a deep coal mine in southern Poland,officials said.

A major rescue effort was under way in the town of Ruda Slaska, around 300 km southwest of the capital, Warsaw.

A spokesman for the state-run Polish Coal Company said it was impossible to say whether rescuers would be able to reach the rest of the men who were trapped underground after a large explosion, probably caused by methane, at around 4:30 p.m. (2100 ist) yesterday.

''Four bodies have already been recovered and we have at least another four to bring out from under the rubble,'' coal company spokesman Zbigniew Madej told Reuters.

''We fear the worst for the others,'' he added.

Officials said all the miners were equipped with personal breathing apparatus and were trained to cope with accidents, but even with this training it was not clear how long they could hold out without help from outside.

The temperature in the deep mine shaft was around 40 degrees Celsius, he said.

''The conditions down there are extreme,'' Madej said. ''It is hell.'' Miner Andrzej Labus, who was in a nearby mine shaft when the blast occurred, told Reuters he had heard a loud explosion during his late afternoon shift.

''There was a huge blast and suddenly everything turned black. We were terribly scared,'' he said.

The mine, Halemba, is one of the oldest in Poland and has been in operation since 1957.

It lies at the heart of Silesia's industrial belt and has seen several disasters in the past. In 1990, 19 miners were killed in the same pit after a gas explosion.

The town of Ruda Slaska has also suffered deaths from its other mines and as recently as July four miners were killed in another incident in a different pit, Polish television reported.

Families of the trapped miners gathered at the mine as news of the blast spread. Officials read out all names of the trapped people to the crowd.

''Me and my son we are waiting for my husband,'' said Barbara Luczakiewicz, the wife of one of the trapped men. ''We hope he will get out of there. I am very scared but I haven't lost hope.'' Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski flew to the mine to observe the rescue efforts, a government spokesman said.

REUTERS DKS PM0425

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