MOSCOW - The search for 24 missing workers presumed to have died in a Siberian coal mine disaster will likely be suspended for a week due to fears of new blasts, a Russian news agency quoted a top official as saying on Friday.
With 66 miners and rescuers confirmed dead after two blasts last weekend, search operations at the Raspadaskaya mine were halted on Thursday because of fires in the tunnels and dangerously high methane gas levels.
"The methane concentration has exceeded all imaginable norms. We have calculations showing that (the search) cannot resume earlier than after seven days," state-run RIA quoted the Emergencies Ministry official, Pavel Plat, as saying.
Emergency workers were unable to extinguish fires in the mine on Thursday and were called back to the surface because of concerns of a new explosion, he was quoted as saying.
A methane blast ripped through the mine on Saturday night, followed by a stronger explosion that wrecked the main ventilation shaft and badly damaged buildings on the surface.
The disaster at the mine in the city of Mezhdurechensk, 3,000 km (1,850 miles) east of Moscow, was the deadliest in a Russian mine since 110 people were killed by a methane blast at another mine in the coal-rich Kemerovo region in March 2007.
The Raspadskaya mine is the main asset of a company also called Raspadskaya, which says it is the largest underground coal mine in Russia. Raspadskaya is part-owned by steel maker Evraz.