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Four miners dead, four missing after tremor hits Polish copper mine (Update 2)

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Rescuers were searching for four missing miners in southwestern Poland on Wednesday after an earth tremor caused rockfalls deep underground in a copper mine, killing four, the mine’s operator KGHM said.

The tremor hit the Rudna copper mine at 2009 GMT on Tuesday, KGHM said, causing extensive damage.

Sections of tunnels hundreds of metres below the surface were blocked by rocks, preventing access to the missing miners, company officials said.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have good news. Rescuers have reached the fourth miner, he is dead,” director of the mine, Pawel Markowski, told a news conference.

“We are continuing the operation, trying to locate the next miners,” he said. “They are a dozen or so metres away.”

Markowski said the fourth victim was a young mechanic who had worked for KGHM for 15 months. The third victim had just worked for a month at the mine.

Markowski said earlier that some of the missing miners could be inside a collapsed machinery chamber.

State-run KGHM said the Rudna mine, the largest copper mine in Europe and in operation since 1974, had 11 shafts reaching as deep as 1,244 metres below the surface.

KGHM Chief Executive Officer Radoslaw Domagalski-Labedzki said earlier two of the miners killed were aged 33 and 47 and their families had already been informed. One of these miners died after he was taken to the surface, the company said.

“We are all shocked by the scale of this tragedy which took place in a place we assessed was exposed to a moderate level of risk,” Domagalski-Labedzki told reporters.

‘WITHOUT A PAUSE’

Domagalski-Labedzki also said nine people working in the mine suffered spinal and head injuries and five were still in hospital.

“The rescue operation is taking place non-stop,” Domagalski-Labedzki told reporters.

“We all have high hopes that the news will be positive. This does not change the fact that the rescue operation is taking place in difficult conditions,” he said before rescuers confirmed the third casualty.

The epicentre of the tremor was situated 1,500 metres below the surface and had a magnitude of 3.4, state news agency PAP reported.

Officials at KGHM said some of the underground tunnels still blocked by debris were eight metres wide and four metres high.

Tremors often occur in underground mines as removing ore and digging tunnels from beneath the surface weakens the structure of the surrounding rocks, but most are harmless.

Prime Minister Beata Szydko has cancelled the government’s weekly sitting and is heading to the mine, her spokesman Rafal Bochenek was quoted by PAP as saying.

At 1213 GMT shares in KGHM were up 0.33 per cent. The company said it was too early to assess the damage and costs caused by the accident.

“After the rescuing operation is finished, a special commission with the representatives of the State Mining Authority and KGHM experts will be convened. Only the part of the mine where the accident took place will be halted,” a KGHM spokeswoman said.

KGHM is one of the biggest copper and silver producer in the world. Its copper output stood at almost 700,000 tonnes in 2015.

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