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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Hopes fade in Russian mine blast
Relatives wait for news at Russia's Taizhina mine
Relatives gathered at the mine to wait for news of loved ones
Rescuers searching for survivors of a mine blast in Russia are losing hope of finding anyone left alive.

At least 44 miners were killed and seven remained missing after the blast at the Taizhina coal mine in Siberia.

Grieving relatives continued to check the list of dead as hundreds of rescue workers tried to reach the miners trapped half a kilometre under ground.

It is the latest - and one of the worst - in a series of accidents that have hit the Russian coal mining industry.

The blast happened in the early hours of Saturday morning in the Kemerovo region of Siberia, about 3,000km (1,850 miles) east of Moscow.

The explosion - possibly by methane gas - sparked a fire underground and caused the shaft to collapse. Gas spread through the underground tunnels as the ventilation system stopped working.

More than 300 workers from neighbouring areas were drafted in to help with the rescue effort.

Voices and sounds could still be heard from underground until Saturday evening, but then went silent.

Funding crisis

"Hope dies last, but there is little chance of finding anyone alive," said rescue official Valery Korchagin.

The explosion is the third fatal mining accident in the area in the last two years.

In September 2002 the roof of a ventilation shaft collapsed in the same mine, killing one and seriously injuring two other miners.

In June last year, a methane gas explosion at another mine in the area killed 12.

Russian mining has suffered from a funding crisis since the collapse of the USSR.

The BBC's Stephen Dalziel says mines such as Taizhina are often focal points of the community - posing an extra problem for the Russian authorities.

Coal is now needed less than oil and gas and many mines could be closed down, says our correspondent.

A programme of resettlement is under way where some pits have closed, but it will take many years to reach all areas.

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