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30 October 2023

Kazakhstan Holds National Day of Mourning for More Than 40 Miners Killed in Fire

Kazakhstan is mourning the tragic loss of over 40 lives in the deadliest coal mine fire in the country's post-Soviet history. Rescue efforts continue despite 45 confirmed deaths as the country grapples with safety concerns and the nationalization of ArcelorMittal Temirtau.

Kazakhstan Holds National Day of Mourning for More Than 40 Miners Killed in Fire

Image: Alexey_Rezvykh/Shutterstock

(RFE.RL) Kazakhstan held a national day of mourning on October 29 for more than 40 people killed in a coal mine fire in the central Qaraghandy region, the deadliest such accident in the country’s post-Soviet history.

The death toll rose to 45 with the recovery of two additional bodies, rescue official Gennady Silinsky said, adding that the search-and-rescue operations continued for a final remaining missing miner.

"The search operation is hampered by the presence of destroyed mining equipment, as well as rubble in some places,” the Ministry for Emergency Situations said in a statement.

Some 252 people were underground at the Kostenko mine when the fire struck in the early hours of October 28, said the operating company ArcelorMittal, the world’s second-largest steel producer.

Authorities said an evacuation had been ordered after a fire broke out but that an explosion occurred before many workers could be led away. The blast could be felt more than 2 kilometers away, Silinsky earlier told a news briefing.

The Kazakh government on October 28 confirmed the nationalization of the local branch of the steel giant, ArcelorMittal Temirtau, which operates the country’s largest steel plants and several coal and ore mines.

Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov said in a statement that the government had reached a preliminary agreement with the company's shareholders and was now in the process of “formalizing” the nationalization.

ArcelorMittal confirmed it had signed “a preliminary agreement for a transaction that will transfer ownership to the Republic of Kazakhstan.”

The company said it "will commit to finalizing this transaction as soon as possible.”

The office of Kazakhstan’s Prosecutor-General announced a probe into potential safety violations at the Kostenko coal mine.

It was the second deadly incident at an ArcelorMittal site in Kazakhstan this year, after five miners were killed in an accident at a mine in the same region in August.

ArcelorMittal's operations in the resource-rich Central Asian country have regularly been accused by authorities of failing to respect safety and environmental regulations.

After the August incident at an ArcelorMittal coal mine, Toqaev denounced the "systemic character" of accidents involving the company that he said had left more than 100 people dead in Kazakhstan since 2006.

In December 2022, Astana 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.