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Ukraine Mine Fire Still Burning; 35 Killed Sunday - 2002-07-08


Firefighters in eastern Ukraine are battling to extinguish a coal mine fire in the Donetsk region that killed at least 35 miners Sunday. A high-level government delegation has arrived on the scene to investigate the cause of the disaster.

The fire deep in the Ukraine mine pits in eastern Ukraine has been burning more than a day. On Sunday, emergency workers rescued about 70 miners and recovered the bodies of more than 30 others. The victims are said to range in age from 21 to 72.

Meanwhile, rescue teams continue to battle the blaze, which broke out late Saturday or early Sunday nearly 700 meters deep in the aging mine. The head of Ukraine's energy ministry rescue service, Sergei Smolanov, says the fight to extinguish the fire is fierce.

Mr. Smolanov says rescue officials are working to localize the blaze while, inspecting further down the shafts. He says there are technical difficulties because smoke has been spreading through the mine for many hours.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. But a special government commission, led by Ukraine's deputy prime minister, is on the scene to investigate. Apart from ordering the inquiry, President Leonid Kuchma also has pledged to release a compensation package of nearly $800,000 for the victim's families.

Ukraine's mines have one of the world's highest accident rates. Last year, about 300 miners died while working in the shafts.

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