At least 45 coal miners were killed in a fire sparked by a methane gas explosion at a mine in Kazakhstan, authorities in the country said on Sunday.
In a statement, the Ministry for Emergency Situations said the blast sparked a blaze early on Saturday at the Kostenko mine in the Karaganda region, state-owned Kazinform news agency reported.
More than 200 people were evacuated from the mine to safety and search efforts are ongoing for one missing miner, the ministry said.
The mine is owned by Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest producer of steel, and run by its local representative ArcelorMittal Temirtau, which operates multiple coal and iron ore mines across Kazakhstan.
Operations at the firm’s eight mines in the Karaganda region have been suspended and a criminal investigation has been opened by the General Prosecutor’s Office, the ministry said.
In a statement following the blast, ArcelorMittal said it had recently signed a preliminary agreement with the Kazakh government to transfer ownership of ArcelorMittal Temirtau to Kazakhstan and was “committed to completing this transaction as soon as possible.”
“Both parties are very much focused on an outcome that is in the best interests of the people who work at the steel plant and iron-ore and coal mines, as well as the communities the operations support,” the statement said.
On Sunday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a national day of mourning for those killed.
The multi-billion dollar mining sector accounted for an estimated 17% of GDP in mineral-rich Kazakhstan in 2021, according to the US International Trade Administration.