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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Prosecutors probe coal mine blast
Russian rescuers
Rescuers fought in vain to save the trapped men
Russian prosecutors are investigating the cause of a blast at a Siberian coal mine which has left dozens dead.

At least 44 men died and three are missing after the blast at the Taizhina pit in the Kemerovo region, about 3,000km (1,850 miles) east of Moscow.

The explosion followed a build-up of methane gas.

Only six of the 53 miners underground at the time survived. The first funerals were due to be held on Tuesday, declared a day of mourning.

It was impossible to survive in there
Russian rescuer
The explosion happened early on Saturday around 560 metres (1,840 feet) beneath the surface.

In a desperate search for survivors, rescue workers dug towards the site from two sides, some using their bare hands to tear through rubble.

But most of the men were already dead, and what little hope remained of finding survivors had faded by Monday.

'No hope'

"The latest figure is 44 dead and three are still missing. But there is no hope of them being found alive," said Sergei Kovalenko, a spokesman for the local branch of the emergencies ministry.

"It was impossible to survive in there," said a rescuer, emerging with a blackened face from the mineshaft.

Investigators were examining whether an earth tremor, safety violations or other factors could have triggered the build-up of methane, said officials.

The explosion started an underground fire and caused the mineshaft to collapse in several places.

Most of the mine's workers come from Taizhina village and the small town of Osinniki.

Russia's mines are chronically underfunded and have been hit repeatedly by fatal accidents.

In pictures: Russia mine tragedy
12 Apr 04  |  In Pictures
Hopes fade in Russian mine blast
12 Apr 04  |  Europe
Russia mine blast leaves 40 dead
11 Apr 04  |  Europe

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