At least 32 people have died and 14 remain missing after a fire broke out in a coal mine in Kazakhstan.
According to the mine operator, steel giant ArcelorMittal Temirtau, 252 people were working in the Kostyenko mine in Kazakhstan’s Karaganda when the fire started.
The company said 206 workers were evacuated after the fire and 18 of these required medical assistance.
The blaze appeared to have been caused by a pocket of methane gas, it said.
“No words can adequately convey the devastation the company feels following this accident,” the company said in a statement. “Everything that can be done to support the families who have lost loved ones through this deeply painful time will be done.”
The fire comes as Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said a deal was being finalised to nationalise ArcelorMittal’s local unit.
The president ordered his cabinet to “stop investment cooperation” with ArcelorMittal Temirtau after the accident and instead go ahead with the deal.
“ArcelorMittal can also confirm, as communicated earlier today by the government of Kazakhstan, that the two parties have been in discussions concerning the future of ArcelorMittal Temirtau and recently signed a preliminary agreement for a transaction that will transfer ownership to the Republic of Kazakhstan,” the company said in a separate statement.
“ArcelorMittal is committed to completing this transaction as soon as possible in order to minimise disruption to the greatest extent possible.”
Mr Tokayev offered his condolences to the families of the victims and declared a national day of mourning on Sunday 29 October.
He made a visit to the site of incident and instructed the government to provide all necessary assistance to the families of the miners.
This is the second incident involving ArcelorMittal in Kazakhstan this year. In August, four miners were killed following a fire at the Karaganda mine.
In November last year, five people were killed after a fire following a methane gas leak at a mine in the same area.
The steel giant owns 15 coal and ore mines in Kazakhstan.
Last month, first deputy prime minister Roman Sklyar said Kazakhstan was engaged in discussions with prospective investors interested in assuming control of the mill.
He expressed the cabinet’s dissatisfaction with ArcelorMittal’s inability to fulfil its investment commitments, enhance equipment and guarantee the safety of workers in the wake of several tragic incidents.