Kazakhstan revealed on Saturday that a mine fire at an ArcelorMittal facility resulted in the loss of 32 lives, and more than a dozen individuals remain missing, representing the country’s most devastating disaster in recent history.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev branded the Luxembourg-listed steel and mining giant as the “worst” company “in our history,” as the firm unveiled a preliminary agreement on the nationalization of its local operations.
Prior to this, Tokayev had commanded his government to take over the Kazakh branch of the company.
‘ArcelorMittal can confirm that the two parties have… recently signed a preliminary agreement for a transaction that will transfer ownership to the Republic of Kazakhstan,’ the global steel giant said in a statement.
On-site at the mine, emergency responders consoled members of the local community, especially women, who nervously awaited information about the individuals laboring beneath the surface.
Many people convened in a waiting room, some with their heads bowed down in distress, and all exhibiting visible signs of anxiousness.
ArcelorMittal, under the leadership of Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, has a track record of fatal disasters in Kazakhstan and is frequently charged with neglecting safety and environmental protocols.
Among the deadliest incidents since the Soviet era, the recent fire has left an indelible mark on Kazakhstan’s history, following a blast at a site owned by the company that claimed the lives of five miners just two months earlier.
‘At the Kostenko mine as of four pm (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 appealed for a day of national mourning to be observed on Sunday.
‘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.
‘The current management of the company cannot do anything,’ he added.
The recent fire has been classified as Kazakhstan’s worst mining catastrophe since 2006, when 41 miners lost their lives at an ArcelorMittal site, and occurred a mere two months after a blast resulted in the deaths of five miners earlier this summer.
Since November of the previous year, there have been five more fatal accidents at ArcelorMittal in Kazakhstan, resulting in a total of 12 casualties.
On Saturday, ambulances and police were spotted entering the mine compound, as reported by an AFP correspondent.
The company, ArcelorMittal, vowed to provide compensation and affirmed its willingness to collaborate with authorities.
‘Our efforts are aimed at that (compensation) and on the tight cooperation with state authorities,’ it said.
Officials said 18 people had been hospitalised after the fire.
‘Fifteen of them are in the toxicology department with carbon monoxide poisoning,’ said regional health department head Bibigul Tulegenova.