WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Eight coal miners were killed after a suspected gas explosion in a mine in southern Poland on Tuesday, and fears were growing as rescuers tried to reach 15 others trapped more than 3,000 underground.

The accident occurred as the men were demolishing a wall in an underground corridor at the Halemba coal mine in the city of Ruda Slaska, said Southern Mining Co., which operates the mine.

“Eight are dead,” Jan Sienkiewicz, spokesman for the Halemba mine, said.

The men were among a group of 31 miners who had been removing equipment from a shaft that had been closed for mining because it had been deemed too dangerous, said Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who flew to the mine and met with rescuers. He said eight miners had managed to escape.

Zbigniew Madej, a spokesman for Southern Mining Co., said rescue workers were digging their way through 500 yards of rubble in the hope of finding survivors.

He added, however, that ventilation systems had been damaged in the shaft.

“The situation is very, very serious,” he said at a televised news conference.

An official for Central Mining Rescue Station, which is leading the search, said the eight bodies were being brought to the surface. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to announce the fatalities.

Sirens could be heard in the background of TV broadcasts from the scene. Mine officials and priests were seen talking to people seeking information about missing relatives.

The mine lies in the Silesia region, the heartland of Poland’s sizable coal industry.

While the cause of Tuesday’s accident was not immediately clear, labor unions have complained that a lack of investment and massive layoffs in recent years have resulted in falling safety standards.

In 1990, 19 miners were killed and twenty injured in a gas explosion at the Halemba mine.

Earlier this year, a miner was rescued at the mine after he spent five days underground following a gas explosion.

More than 80 miners have been killed in Poland’s coal and copper mines since 2003.


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