BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Nine bodies have been recovered from a Slovak coal mine following a fire and explosion, and 11 other people are also believed to have died, authorities said Tuesday.
Economy Minister Lubomir Jahnatek said rescue workers initially found six bodies in the Handlova mine in central Slovakia. Mine director Peter Cicmanec said a further three bodies were later found as rescue units, engineers and medics battled high temperatures to reach the scene Tuesday.
Jahnatek said it was unlikely any of the 20 people missing in the mine survived.
“It’s a huge tragedy,” said Prime Minister Robert Fico.
After an emergency session of his government Tuesday, Fico said Wednesday would be an official day of mourning. He said the government was planning to compensate relatives of the victims.
The explosion, caused by gases released in the fire, occurred in an old shaft about 330 meters (1,100 feet) below the surface.
The trapped workers were nine miners who were initially sent to battle the blaze and 11 sent as reinforcements as the fire grew. Mine managers said they lost all contact with the 20 men after the blast.
Jahnatek said they were all likely killed immediately.
Nine other people who also were in the mine Monday but not near the explosion were treated for minor injuries in a hospital and discharged.
Four miners died in 2006 in the nearby mine of Novaky after a shaft caved in.