By RADUL RADOVANOVIC – Associated Press
CITLUK, Serbia (AP) – An accident in a mine in central Serbia on Friday killed eight people and injured 18 others, authorities say. It happened when part of the mine pit collapsed, releasing methane gas inside and capturing the miners, state RTS television and local media reported.
The accident at the coal mine in Soko occurred shortly after 04.00 (0200 GMT). Officials said an investigation is underway to determine exactly what happened.
“Inspectors, police and all relevant authorities are on the scene and doing what is necessary to determine the cause of this tragedy,” said Minister of Mines and Energy Zorana Mihailovic.
MIhailovic visited the site on Friday and expressed condolences to the families of the victims and promised state aid. She denied reports of an explosion.
“Unfortunately, 8 miners were suffocated,” Mihailovic said.
The Soko mine, 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Belgrade, the capital, has had several serious accidents since it began operating in the early 20th century. An accident at the mine in 1998 killed 29 miners.
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Drago Milinkovic, head of the coal mine in Soko, said that initial information indicated that there was a “sudden release of methane gas” in the mining area.
“The Soko coal mine is a dangerous coal mine, dangerous from the methane aspect,” he said. “Safety measures are at the highest level in the coal mine, but this time there was a sudden release of methane and simply the monitoring and equipment that was in place did not help.”
Doctors in nearby Aleksinac, where injured miners have been taken, said their injuries were mostly not serious. The city authorities announced that a day of mourning would be held on Saturday.
Near the mine, astonished locals stood silent. A miner who only identified himself by his first name, Milan, said he usually worked night shifts.
“I changed shifts because of my family,” he said. “It could have been me.”
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