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Rescuers find 38 dead miners killed in blast at Siberian coal mine

Rescuers discovered the bodies of 38 miners killed in a deadly methane explosion in Siberian coal mine.

Grieving relatives gathered at the Yubileinaya mine near Novokuznetsk, some 3,000 kilometers (1,850 miles) east of Moscow, searching for loved-ones and waiting for officials to identify the dead and treat the seven injured.

The blast at the Yubileinaya mine was the second to hit a mine owned and operated by OAO Yuzhkuzbassugol in two months - prompting a harsh warning from Russian industrial watchdog Rostekhnadzor, which said regional officials had sought to close down the Yubileinaya mine in the past.

"The owner and administration of the mine has repeatedly allowed violations of safety conditions of mine operation," the agency said. It warned that the Yuzhkuzbassugol might be stripped of its license.

The explosion occurred about 520 meters (1,700 feet) below the surface at the mine around 7:30 a.m. (0330GMT). A total of 179 miners were either brought to the surface or made it out on their own, emergency department spokeswoman Natalia Lukash said.

Irina Andrianova, another emergency department spokeswoman, said 217 people had been working in the mine at the time of the blast. Her statement that the death toll had risen to 38 appeared to account for all those who had been in the mine.

Aman Tuleev, governor of the Kemerovo region where the mine is located, said the blast may have been caused by the collapse of a coal wall where drilling was taking place. He also called for a change in ownership of the mine.

"The owners of the mine answer for the safety of our mine workers," Tuleev said in televised comments. "If we can't change the company owners, then we will try to revoke the license of the company."

Yuzhkuzbassugol's ownership is split evenly between the company's management and coal and steel producer Evraz SA, which is partly owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich and which acquired its 50 percent stake in December 2005.

The blast highlighted the hazardous state of Russia's mining industry, which fell into disrepair when government subsidies dried up after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It also comes just over two months after 110 people died in a methane explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine in the same region, known as the Kuzbass. That blast was the worst accident in more than 60 years in Russia's mines.

In a statement posted on its Web site, Evraz said it was reviewing its business strategy of investment in Yuzhkuzbassugol, which is a major supplier of coking coal to two Evraz steel mills.

"Aside from this, Evraz, for its part, will review all possibilities for reducing the levels of technological and industrial risks in this coal company," the company said.

On Tuesday, Rostekhnadzor fired or suspended five regional officials in connection with the March blast at the Ulyanovskaya mine.

Evraz SA recently completed the takeover of Oregon Steel in the United States for US$2.3 billion (1.7 billion EUR), one of the largest investments in the United States by a Russian company.

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