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Siberia Mine Blast Death Toll Rises To 35

Rescuers are still searching for three missing miners at the Yubileynaya coal mine (ITAR-TASS) MOSCOW, May 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A gas explosion has ripped through a coal mine in southwestern Siberia, killing at least 35 people. Rescue teams are still searching for three missing miners.

About 180 miners were led to safety after a methane-gas blast tore through the mine, located in Russia's Kemerovo Oblast. Six of the survivors suffered injuries.

Irina Andrianova, a spokesperson for the Emergency Situations Ministry, said rescue workers are continuing their efforts to free the miners thought to be still trapped in the mine shaft.

"Altogether there were 217 people in the mine," Andrianova said. "The regional governor and the mine's managers are already at the scene. Federal assistance is being prepared at the airport in the town of Ramenskoye in the form of Il-76 airplanes, on board which there are rescue workers and psychologists."

The blast took place at the Yubileynaya mine in Novokuznetsk. In March, a methane blast at the nearby Ulyanovskaya mine killed 110 workers -- the deadliest mining accident on Russian soil in 60 years. Both mines are operated by the Yuzhkuzbassugol company.

Deadly Trend

Just a day before the latest blast, Russia's top mine-safety official, Konstantin Pulikovsky, announced that five mine safety inspectors had been dismissed as a result of the March explosion. An investigation into the explosion found that modern safety equipment to detect excess methane had been turned off.

Pulikovsky dismissed the officials in the Kemerovo Oblast for allowing the modern Ulyanovskaya mine to "breach safety rules in order to make a profit," the Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov called for action during a government meeting today in Moscow.

"This is a very serious issue. Not only is this series of accidents alarming, but it is now going beyond all acceptable limits, Fradkov said. "I ask those officials at the Emergency Situations Ministry and Rostekhnadzor [industrial safety agency] directly involved in dealing with the aftermath of the accident, to take all the necessary measures, make an analysis and, if necessary, participate in the work of the recovery operations headquarters."

Russia's coal mines are notoriously dangerous places to work. Many fell into disrepair following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when subsidies dried up. Miners complain that they rely on aging technology and that managers often disregard safety measures in order to boost production.

Siberia's Kuznetsk basin, or Kuzbass, holds some of the biggest coal reserves in the world.

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