At least 36 miners were killed, 44 injured and at least 14 others were missing in an underground explosion in eastern Ukraine yesterday.
The morning blast at the Zasiadko mine in the coal-rich Donetsk region was the most serious accident this year in Ukraine's coal mines, which are considered to be among the world's most dangerous.
Up to 259 miners were working in the vicinity of the blast. Most of them were brought to the surface where 22 were admitted to hospital, at least four in a serious condition, and 22 others were found to have suffered light injuries.
Rescue teams were fighting a fire inside the mine, officials said. One miner described seeing "piles of bodies" while escaping to the surface.
What caused the blast at the mine was not immediately clear. It was the scene of a methane explosion that killed 50 miners and injured about 40 others in May 1999.
Police surrounded the mine compound and barred reporters from entering. Grim-faced workers and relatives sat outside the mine's main administrative building in Donetsk awaiting news.
President Leonid Kuchma ordered that a government commission be formed to look into the causes of the accident, Oleksandr Martynenko, his spokesman, said. President Kuchma also planned to visit the mine today.
Volodymyr Semynozhenko, the Deputy Prime Minister, pledged to help the families of the dead and wounded and lamented the poor state of Ukraine's coal industry. "This is a tragedy. We understand once again that we must re-equip our coal industry both technically and technologically to bring it to a proper level," Mr Semynozhenko said.
After independence from the Soviet Union, the Ukraine government slashed subsidies to the coal industry and the death rate began to rise. Last year, 318 coal miners died at work, and at least 149 have died so far this year. Most accidents are blamed on outdated equipment and widespread disregard for safety rules. (AP)Reuse content