Fire at Kazakhstan’s ArcelorMittal mine kills at least 25, with 21 people still missing

At least 25 people have died in a mine fire in Kazakhstan, said ArcelorMittal Temirtau, the local unit of the Luxembourg-based steelmaker that operates the mine, on Saturday.

Of the 252 people at the Kostenko mine, 206 had been evacuated after what appeared to be a methane blast, with 18 seeking medical help, the company said. Some 21 people had not been located by 2pm (08:00 GMT).

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who expressed condolences to the victims’ families and declared a national day of mourning on October 29, ordered his cabinet to stop investment cooperation with ArcelorMittal Temirtau.

The government said it was finalising a deal to nationalise the company, which operates the country’s biggest steel mill. ArcelorMittal confirmed that in its own statement.

Law enforcement officers stand at the entrance of the Kostyenko coal mine. Photo: AFP

ArcelorMittal has a history of deadly disasters in Kazakhstan and is regularly accused of failing to respect safety and environmental regulations.

The fire was Kazakhstan’s worst mining accident since 2006, when 41 miners died at an ArcelorMittal site, and came two months after five miners were killed in a blast this summer.

The fire took place at the Kostyenko mine north of the city of Karaganda.

Ambulances and police entered the territory of the mine on Saturday, an AFP reporter saw.

ArcelorMittal promised compensations and said it would cooperate with authorities.

“Our efforts are aimed at that (compensations) and on the tight cooperation with state authorities,” it said.

The battle for influence in Central Asia

Tokayev said an investigative commission would be set up to determine the cause.

After the fire at an ArcelorMittal coal mine in August, Tokayev denounced the “systemic character” of accidents involving the company that he said had left more than 100 people dead since 2006.

ArcelorMittal operates around a dozen mines in the highly polluted industrial region of the vast, resource-rich Kazakhstan, formerly part of the Soviet Union.

Extraction of iron and coal as well as oil, gas and uranium have made its economy the largest in Central Asia, though accidents are common because of ageing infrastructure and equipment and lax safety standards.

In December last year, the government had threatened to ban ArcelorMittal from operating in the country after a worker died in what the company called “an accident” at its factory in Termitau.

The death came just a month after five miners were killed at another Arcelor site in the region.

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