Relatives greet rescued Siberia minersb

Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW - Crying relatives greeted eight miners rescued Saturday from a burning Siberian gold mine after a raging fire killed at least 25 of their colleagues.

The bodies of the last four missing workers were recovered early Sunday.

As the survivors were rushed to hospital Saturday to be treated for hypothermia and carbon dioxide poisoning, they described their two-day ordeal, saying they managed to stay alive several hundred yards underground by sticking together.

"Nobody panicked, nobody quarreled," Yevgeny Slivka told state-run Channel One as he lay in a hospital bed, his face covered with soot.

"We shared one cigarette among the eight of us, we had two pieces of lard that we split into small equal pieces among all, we spread the bread evenly, too — nobody yelled at one each other ... everybody managed to stay together."

Miners' relatives had gathered outside the mine Saturday, waiting in the cold for news, hoping to ask survivors about the fate of those still missing.

But workers searching smoke-filled tunnels found the bodies of the last four missing workers Sunday, bringing the number of dead to 25, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Natalya Lukash.

The blaze broke out Thursday in the Darasun mine some 3,000 miles east of Moscow.

Of the 64 who were in the mine when the fire broke out, 31 made it to the surface Thursday, and eight were rescued Saturday.

Another ministry spokeswoman, Yulia Stadnikova, said the fire, which erupted at a depth of 280 feet to 430 feet, was contained Thursday evening, but still burned Saturday and rescue efforts were hampered by damage and smoky conditions.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu flew to the mine to take charge of the physically and emotionally exhausting operation and to investigate the cause of the accident. Three hundred rescuers took part.

Officials said earlier that negligence during welding work may have sparked the blaze at the mine, which has been in operation since 1901.

The welders first attempted to put out the fire themselves and waited nearly an hour to call for help, which allowed the fire to spread quickly, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency, which cited Nikolai Kutin, deputy head of government safety watchdog agency Rostekhnadzor.

On survivor, Nikolai Selishev, said he and his companions had found an area where fresh air was blowing in and stayed there until smoke and gas lifted enough for them to move further.

The gold and metals mine is operated by London-listed Highland Gold Mining PLC. The 105-year-old mine has been plagued with operational problems for over a year, Dow Jones Newswires reported, badly delaying the schedule for raising output and contributing to the causes of Highland's net loss last year.

The accident "appears to be the worst in the gold mining industry in years," Rostekhnadzor spokeswoman Elena Kaliberda said.

Accidents are common in the mining industries in the former Soviet Union, where mine operators often lack funds to invest in safety equipment and technical upgrades.

Coal mining has been worst affected by accidents, with 1,744 miners dying while working since 1993, according to Vladimir Rossikhin, of the Russian Independent Union of Coal Miners. He said, however, that safety had improved in recent years amid Russia's economic recovery.

Regional authorities said the province will mark Monday as a day of mourning.

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