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August 18, 2009

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Hydroelectric plant flood kills 8

AN accident during repair work at Russia's largest hydroelectric plant yesterday killed at least eight workers, while as many as 65 others were missing after an engine room was flooded, officials said.

The cause of the accident at the Sayano-Shushinskaya plant in southern Siberia was unclear. Federal investigators said a transformer exploded during repair works, destroying walls and the ceiling in an engine room where turbines are located and causing the room to flood.

The plant's owner said the flood was due to a pressure surge in water pipes.

Eight workers were confirmed dead and 14 injured. Investigators initially said 54 people were missing, but local emergency workers said the number could be as high as 65.

The accident shut down the power station, which supplies several major aluminum plants. The government said electricity supplies from other power plants were being re-routed to help cover the shortfall, but outages were reported throughout the region.

The plant's dam, a towering structure that stretches about a kilometer across the Yenisei River, was not damaged and towns downstream were in no danger, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

The accident produced an oil spill, however, and the slick was floating downriver. The slick had grown to cover as much as 25 square kilometers, the Natural Resources Ministry said.

Two of the plant's 10 turbines were destroyed and a third was seriously damaged, said Vasily Zubakin, acting chief executive of the plant's owner, RusHydro. He said the company was still assessing the state of the remaining seven.

Shoigu said the repairs would be difficult. "We're probably talking about years rather than months to restore three of the 10 turbines," he said.

The world's largest aluminum producer, Rusal, was operating as usual, with its smelters being powered from other plants, company spokeswoman Yelena Shuliveistrova said.


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