Christmas celebrations in the Czech Republic this year were overshadowed by tragedy. The death of 13 miners killed in a methane explosion at a coal mine in the north-eastern part of the country dominated news coverage over the holidays, as did the deadly tsunami in Indonesia. The victims were remembered in masses over Christmas and people donated money to accounts in aid of the victims.
When families gathered for Christmas dinner this year they had reason to be truly grateful they were together. The tragedy in the OKD coal mine which struck just ahead of Christmas and the devastating tsunami in Indonesia were present in their minds and prayers. The victims of these tragedies were remembered in Christmas masses around the country.
The situation at the ČSM coal mine in Karvina dominated news reports, with the Czech Mining Authority reporting that the area devastated by the methane blast remained largely inaccessible to emergency crews. Four of the dead bodies were retrieved, the rest remain below ground and it could be weeks before emergency crews may get to them. The parts of the mine affected have been closed off by barriers and remain inaccessible. A special commission has been set up to investigate the accident, but it is not clear when experts will be able to inspect the site of the tragedy.
“In the course of the next few weeks we will only monitor the concentration of gasses in the shafts with the help of special sensors. And as of December 27th miners will be able to return to work in parts of the mine unaffected by the blast.”
Meanwhile, two of the ten miners injured remain in hospital in Ostrava. One of them is still in critical condition with deep burns on fifty percent of his body, the other, who suffered burns to ten percent of his body, is reported to be stable and is communicating with doctors. Their families spent Christmas at their bedsides.
A special account has been set up for the ten children who lost their fathers in the blast – 12 of the 13 men killed were Poles, and another account established by the OKD mining company is to help the families of the victims. The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said he expected OKD to compensate the victims’ families and added that if it could not, the state would meet this obligation.
Although work in those parts of the mine unaffected by the blast resumed on Thursday, the mood among miners and the local community remained sombre. The site is still being visited by Polish relatives of those who died in the blast, to light candles and pay their respects, strengthening the bond between the mining communities on both sides of the border.