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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 08:14 GMT
No survivors in Polish mine blast
Women mourners
Relatives waited outside the mine for news
Rescuers at a Polish coal mine have found the bodies of 15 miners, ending hopes of finding any survivors from an underground explosion on Tuesday.

It takes the final death toll to 23, making this the worst mine accident in Poland for many years.

The accident happened at Halemba mine in Ruda Slaska, about 300km (190 miles) south-west of Warsaw.

The mine shaft had been closed in March because of high gas levels, but the men were retrieving expensive equipment.

Rescuers were working in extremely difficult conditions
Zbigniew Goldstein
Rescue expert

The team of miners, aged between 21 and 59, had been sent to retrieve equipment worth $23m (17.9m euros; 12.1m), the company said.

It is not clear whether the men died in the initial blast or whether they died afterward, rescue officials said.

"This brings to an end this very sad day," said a spokesman for the state-run coal company, at the scene.

Dangerous rescue effort

President Lech Kaczynski, who visited the site on Wednesday, met grieving family members and pledged a full investigation into the accident.

Efforts to save the men had been hindered by bad underground conditions.

Work had to be suspended for several hours on Wednesday amid fears of another explosion after rescuers encountered high concentrations of methane gas. A lack of oxygen and temperatures reaching 40C also hindered the effort.

Rescue team at work
Rescue efforts had been hampered by fears of a second blast
"Rescuers were working in extremely difficult conditions," said Zbigniew Goldstein, a main adviser to a mine rescue centre based in nearby Bytom.

"We had methane, we had poisonous gases, high temperatures, high humidity, water threats, structural changes after the explosion. Everything that can happen down there."

Tuesday's blast was probably caused by methane gas, officials said.

The mine is in Silesia, the heartland of the Polish coal industry.

Safety conditions in Polish mines have improved since communist times, correspondents say, but unions have often complained of poor investment in the industry. More than 100 miners have died since 2003.

An explosion at the Halemba pit in 1990 killed 19 miners.

Country profile: Poland
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