By Conor Humphries MOSCOW, May 10 (Reuters) - Rescue workers raced to save 59 people trapped inside Russia's largest coal mine on Monday as the death toll from twin underground explosions rose to 31. The death toll at the Raspadskaya coal mine, 3,000 km (1,850 miles) east of Moscow, rose from 12 overnight as more bodies were found following two methane explosions on Saturday, the Emergency Ministry said in a statement. Aman Tuleyev, governor of Kemerovo region where the mine is located, said time was now running out to rescue those trapped in areas of the mine where anti-flooding systems had failed. "God willing, they are still alive," he said in remarks shown on Russian television. "That possibility still exists, but ... we only have 48 hours until it floods." The death toll makes the disaster the deadliest in a Russian mine since May 2007, when 39 died as a result of a methane explosion at Yubileynaya mine, also located in Kemerovo. More than 350 miners were underground when the first explosion rocked the Raspadskaya mine just before midnight on Saturday. Nearly 300 miners managed to escape. "We felt the wave: dust, gas and hot air," one unnamed miner told Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio station. "We were blocked from both sides but we got out through the emergency exit." Dozens of relatives gathered in a building nearby, many hugging each other and some crying as they waited for news. Her voice breaking, one woman, Alexandra Onishchenko, said she was beginning to lose hope that her son was still alive. "What grounds (for hope) do we have?" she told Rossiya-24 television.
"They could have pulled them out in the four hours before the (second) blast." A criminal investigation has been opened into possible safety violations, the Prosecutor General's Office said. "We need to do everything possible to save the people," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in a video conference with rescue leaders on Sunday. RISING FLOOD WATERS At Raspadskaya, the country's biggest underground mine, rising flood waters were complicating the efforts of more than 500 people involved in rescue work on Monday, officials said. Nineteen rescuers were themselves trapped underground after a second blast four hours later reduced several buildings to smouldering ruins and forced a halt to rescue work. The bodies of 17 rescuers were found after a fall in methane levels allowed colleagues to re-enter the mine. Sixty-five were injured, the Emergencies Ministry said. Every hour 2,000 cubic meters of water were pouring into two areas of the mine where at least 13 people were trapped, news agencies quoted Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying. Rescuers restored electricity to the ventilation system, but faced the threat that higher levels of oxygen in the mine would increase the risk of another explosion, Shoigu said. Raspadskaya is part-owned by steel-and-mining firm Evraz Group. The mine in the city of Mezhdurechensk had reserves of some 450 million tons of coal and produced 8.9 million tons in 2007, according to the Raspadskaya company. It says the pit is the largest underground mine in Russia. (Editing by Maria Golovnina) Keywords: RUSSIA MINE/ (firstname.lastname@example.org; +7495-7751242) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.
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