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Hopes fade for 15 miners trapped in Polish mine

Written by: Staff

RUDA SLASKA, Poland, Nov 22 (Reuters) Hopes of saving 15 miners trapped for more than 24 hours in a Polish coal mine faded today after life-threatening conditions forced rescue crews to suspend work.

At least eight miners were killed by a methane explosion yesterday. The trapped workers were in a shaft more than 1 km beneath the town of Ruda Slaska, 300 km southwest of the capital Warsaw.

Officials said there was still a high risk of another explosion and the concentration of gas was rising. Polish television reported rescue work might resume at 223- IST.

''It is absolutely impossible to continue rescue work underground right now,'' Poland's president Lech Kaczynski told a news conference after visiting the site.

''Even though we should never lose hope, I will not hide the fact that the situation is very, very grim.'' Officials said the blast appeared to have damaged an underground water pump, flooding the area and leaving little hope that anybody could still be found alive.

Family members waited patiently at the pit head for news of the missing men and were offered counselling by local doctors.

''I was once a miner myself. When I heard the news, my first thought was that my son is dead,'' Michal Wasowski, 55, whose son is among the missing.

''A methane explosion is one of the most horrible things that can happen underground and this time it happened to my son.'' The Halemba mine is one of the oldest in Poland and has been in operation since 1957.

It lies at the heart of the Silesia region's industrial belt that has been the scene of several disasters. In 1990, 19 miners were killed in the same pit by a gas explosion.

Poland's state-run mining industry, built up before the fall of communism in 1989 and starved of investment for years, has suffered hundreds of deaths over the last few decades.

The president said there would be a public inquiry into the cause of the disaster. He said he had indications some of the miners were not experienced and not sufficiently qualified.

''We will check all aspects and find out whether all standards were met at the mine,'' he said.

Reuters SP DB2137

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