To purchase this space contact Gordon

Police in Siberia arrested two safety inspectors suspected of criminal negligence as Russia’s coal mining heartland mourned one of its worst mine disasters since Soviet times.

Investigators have launched a series of probes into the disaster at the Listvyazhnaya mine in the Keremovo region, the worst mining accident in Russia in more than a decade.

Regional governor Sergei Tsivilyov said a methane explosion was the likely cause of Thursday’s accident at the mine near the town of Belovo. The dead included five rescuers sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground, he said.

“There was an explosion at this mine 18 years ago and 13 people died. The whole village went mad. Just imagine how they’re going to bury 46 (miners),” said Inna Piyalkina, whose 55-year-old husband was among the dead.

Miners are seen near the Listvyazhnaya coal mine outside the town of Belovo in the Kemerovo region.

Officials said the mine had filled with smoke in the early hours of Thursday after an apparent gas explosion.

The Investigative Committee, a body that probes serious crimes, said they would charge and remand in custody two safety inspectors who issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility.

Its move followed the arrest late on Thursday of three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, on suspicion of flouting safety standards.

The local prosecutor’s office said on Friday it was carrying out safety checks at other mines across the region and had already opened 28 cases into violations found at six companies. It did not name them.

Sergei Tsivilyov (centre left) and Dmitrii Demeshin (centre) lay flowers at the memorial to honour fallen rescuers in Gramoteino village, Siberia, Russia. AP

The mine, located some 3,500km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, is owned by SDS-Ugol, a company that produces 27 million tonnes of coal annually and is part of the privately-owned Siberian Business Union. The SBU did not reply to a request for comment.

Piyalkina said her husband, who had worked in the mine for 33 years, had recently complained of safety problems.

“Methane was over the limit. My husband came home from work every day and said it wouldn’t end well. It was so over the limit that all the sensors were beeping,” she told reporters after visiting the facility on Friday.

She said there had been a fire in a part of the mine on the night of Nov. 14-15.

“No measures were taken. Here’s the result. Just 10 days have gone by and they’re all lying in there,” she said.