Explosion in Russian coal mine kills at least 17

A methane gas explosion ripped through a Siberian coal mine Monday, killing at least 17 miners and prompting efforts to evacuate more than 100 still underground hours after the accident, emergency officials said.

At least five other miners were injured as a result of the blast at the Ulyanovskaya mine in the Kemerovo region, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Alina Avyazova said.

The explosion occurred during the afternoon when 186 workers were underground in the mine, a spokesman for the region Emergency Situations Ministry Valery Korchagin said. He said 55 had been brought safely to the surface, and that rescuers were working to evacuate the rest.

Rescue workers were in contact with surviving miners underground, Avyazova said. It was not clear whether they were in immediate danger.

The Ulyanovskaya mine is in Novokuznetsk, a sprawling city about 3,000 kilometers (1,850 miles) east of Moscow in a coal-rich swath of south-central Siberia known as the Kuzbass. President Vladimir Putin ordered Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to travel to the area, Russian news agencies reported.

The massive mine - operated by Yuzhkuzbassugol, an affiliate of Russian coal and steel company Evraz Group SA - opened in 2002 and produces 3 million metric tons (3.3 million U.S. tons) of coal a year, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency.

Accidents are common in the Russian coal industry. A blast at a mine on the outskirts of Novokuznetsk killed 47 workers in 2004 - the deadliest in the region since 1997, when a methane explosion at a mine in the city killed 67, reports AP.

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