Fire at ArcelorMittal Kazakh mine kills at least 21
KARAGANDA, Kazakhstan: A fire at a mine in Kazakhstan owed by steel giant ArcelorMittal killed 21 people Saturday, with over 20 miners still underground and the Central Asian nation working to take over the company's local branch.
ArcelorMittal - listed in Luxembourg - has a history of deadly disasters in Kazakhstan and is regularly accused of failing to respect safety and environmental regulations.
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.
The fire took place at the Kostyenko mine north of the city of Karaganda.
"The bodies of 21 miners have been found," ArcelorMital said in a statement.
"There are still 23 miners inside the mine," it said.
The company said 252 miners have been brought out from underground and that rescue operations were ongoing.
Ambulances and police entered the territory of the mine on Saturday, an AFP reporter saw.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev - who has previously denounced the "systemic character of accidents" at ArcelorMittal - had also arrived at the scene.
He earlier said he had ordered his government to "end investment cooperation" with ArcelorMittal.
The government said it would work towards nationalisation.
"At the moment work is ongoing on returning the company to the Republic of Kazakhstan," it said on Telegram.
It was not considering handing the firm to "other foreign investors".
Probe into cause of fire
ArcelorMittal promised compensations and said it would cooperate with authorities.
"Our efforts are aimed at that (compensations) and on the tight cooperation with state authorities," it said.
Tokayev said an investigative commission would be set up to determine the cause.
After the fire at an ArcelorMittal coal mine in August, Tokayev denounced the "systemic character" of accidents involving the company that he said had left more than 100 people dead since 2006.
ArcelorMittal operates around a dozen mines in the highly polluted industrial region of the vast, resource-rich country, formerly part of the Soviet Union.
Extraction of iron and coal as well as oil, gas and uranium have made its economy the largest in Central Asia, though accidents are common because of ageing infrastructure and equipment and lax safety standards.
In December 2022, the government had threatened to ban ArcelorMittal from operating in the country after a worker died in what the company called "an accident" at its factory in Termitau.
The death came just a month after five miners were killed at another Arcelor site in the region.