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Death toll in Polish mine disaster rises to 21

Written by: Staff
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RUDA SLASKA, Poland, Nov 23 (Reuters) Polish rescuers found 13 more bodies overnight from Tuesday's coal mine disaster, taking the death toll so far to 21, officials said today.

The search went on for two more miners trapped after an underground methane gas explosion at the mine in the town of Ruda Slaska, about 300 km southwest of Warsaw, but the officials all but ruled out finding them alive.

Rescue work had been suspended yesterday because conditions were too dangerous due to high levels of methane gas still in the Halemba mine, one of the oldest in Poland.

''We have now found 21 bodies altogether. The chances for the other two are almost non-existent,'' Zbigniew Madej, spokesman for the state-owned company Polish Coal Co, told Reuters.

The miners were in a shaft more than 1 km underground when the blast occurred.

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.

DISASTER INQUIRY President Lech Kaczynski, who visited the mine yesterday, told reporters 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.

Officials said the blast appeared to have damaged an underground water pump, flooding the area and leaving little hope anybody could be found alive.

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

Michal Wasowski's son was among those caught up in the blast.

''I was once a miner myself. When I heard the news, my first thought was that my son is dead,'' said 55-year-old Wasowski.

''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, in operation since 1957, 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.

REUTERS AKJ VV1035

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