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31 Dead 5 Missing in Ukraine Mine Explosion - 2004-07-20

The death toll following Monday's fiery explosion at a coal mine in eastern Ukraine has risen to 31, with five miners reported missing hundreds of meters below the surface.

By mid-day, the bodies of 31 miners were accounted for at the Krasnolimanskaya mine, following what officials are calling the worst mining tragedy in Ukraine in two years.

Scores of emergency search and rescue workers are scouring the scene for signs of survivors, but hopes are fading that anyone else will be found alive. The head of the rescue team, Yuri Religa, says no effort will be spared.

Mr. Religa says the rescue effort is being hampered by mine shaft temperatures nearing 50-degrees centigrade combined with noxious gas and smoke.

According to the government, about 100 miners have died in similar accidents this year.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed an official meeting that was to be held Wednesday in Yalta because of the tragedy, which President Putin has called, our common misfortune.