No fewer than 32 people were killed in a fire outbreak that occurred in a mine owned by ArcelorMittal in Kazakhstan, with over a dozen still missing.
The deadly accident has been described as the Central Asian country’s worst disaster in years.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called the Luxembourg-listed ArcelorMittal group the “worst” company “in our history” and ordered his government to take control of the Kazakh branch of the company.
ArcelorMittal has a history of deadly disasters in Kazakhstan and is regularly accused of failing to respect safety and environmental regulations.
The fire was one of the deadliest in Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet history and came just two months after five miners were killed in a blast at a site owned by the company.
“At the Kostenko mine as of 4 p.m. (1000 GMT) the bodies of 32 people have been found,” the emergency situations ministry said in a statement. “The search for 14 miners is continuing.”
“This is a tragedy,” Tokayev said as he met with families of the victims in the Karaganda region.
He called for a day of national mourning on Sunday.
Tokayev, who has decried ArcelorMittal’s safety record, ordered his government to take control of the mines.
“This company has turned out to be the worst in our history from the point of view of cooperation between a company and the government,” Tokayev said.
He asked the deputy governor of the Karaganda region, Vadim Basin — who used to work for ArcelorMittal — to head the company.
“The current management of the company cannot do anything,” he added.
Earlier, Kazakhstan’s government said it would work towards nationalization.
No cause of the accident has been announced yet, with Tokayev saying an investigative commission would be set up.
The fire was Kazakhstan’s worst mining accident since 2006, when 41 miners died at an ArcelorMittal site, and came two months after five miners were killed in a blast this summer.
There have been five other deadly accidents at ArcelorMittal in Kazakhstan since November last year, resulting in 12 deaths together.
Ambulances and police entered the mine compound on Saturday, an AFP reporter saw.
ArcelorMittal promised compensation and said it would cooperate with authorities.
“Our efforts are aimed at that (compensation) and on the tight cooperation with state authorities,” it said.
Tokayev said an investigative commission would be set up to determine the cause.
Officials said 18 people had been hospitalized after the fire.
“Fifteen of them are in the toxicology department with carbon monoxide poisoning,” said regional health department head Bibigul Tulegenova.