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64 missing workers feared dead in Russian plant accident

Damage is surveyed at the Sayano-Shushinskaya hydroelectric power station in southern Siberia. The accident on Monday closed the plant and left several towns and major factories without electricity. AP Photo

Damage is surveyed at the Sayano-Shushinskaya hydroelectric power station in southern Siberia. The accident on Monday closed the plant and left several towns and major factories without electricity. AP Photo

Nataliya Vasilyeva
AP Writer

Moscow — Divers scoured the near-freezing waters flooding the rooms of Russia’s largest hydroelectric plant on Tuesday but the owner said it was doubtful that any of the 64 workers missing after an accident would be found alive.

The accident Monday, which drowned or crushed to death 12 other workers, shut down the massive Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant in southern Siberia and left several towns and major factories without electricity.

The plant provides 10 percent of Siberia’s energy needs, according to Russian media reports.

Two workers were found alive Monday in niches inside the flooded structure, RusHydro acting chief Vasily Zubakin was quoted as saying, but hope was fading for the 64 still missing.

RusHydro officials say the water temperature around the plant is around 40 degrees.

Federal investigators said an explosion destroyed walls and the ceiling in a room where turbines are located and caused the room to flood. One of the plant’s 10 turbines was destroyed, two were partly destroyed and three others were damaged, officials said.

The plant’s dam, a towering structure that stretches more than half a mile across the Yenisei River, was not damaged and towns downstream were not in danger, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Former plant director Alexander Toloshinov said some workers trapped in the flooded control room could have survived by finding a corner with some air left.

Three groups of divers were searching for the missing workers inside the flooded rooms and in the river outside, Shoigu said in televised comments, adding that the workers were now believed to have drowned or been crushed by debris from the explosion.

Supplies from other power plants were being rerouted Tuesday to help cover the region’s shortfall but it was unclear how long other power plants would be able to keep making up for the energy shortage.

RusHydro said a faulty turbine at the plant, which began operating in 1978, was likely to blame.

Investigators believe the accident occurred after a defective lid of one turbine was torn off during repair work, Yelena Vishnyakova, another RusHydro spokeswoman, said.

Shoigu, however, said that was merely one of several theories about why the accident occurred, Russian news agencies reported.

RusHydro said replacing the damaged equipment at the plant may take up to two years but the undamaged turbines could be put back into operation in a month.

More than 70 percent of all energy from the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant goes to four Siberian smelters of Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer.

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