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Death Toll in Russian Mine Blast Rises to 44 - 2004-04-12

Russian authorities say the death toll from Saturday's coal mine explosion in Siberia has risen to at least 44.

Three miners were reported still missing, but officials said there was little chance of finding anyone else alive.

Sunday, rescuers used everything from heavy equipment to their bare hands to look for the missing men in the Taizhina pit in the Kuzbass region of Siberia.

Officials say a buildup of methane gas apparently caused the explosion, more than 550 meters underground. The blast caused the mine shaft walls to collapse and cut off electricity and the ventilation systems.

Prosecutors in Siberia have opened a criminal investigation into possible negligence.

Coal mining accidents are common in Russia. Officials blame the disasters on outdated equipment and lax safety measures. President Vladimir Putin has ordered new equipment and better safety technology for the mining industry.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.