At least 78 miners in Russia were killed Monday when a blast ripped through a coal mine in central Siberia. Rescue efforts continue to find an estimated 40 other miners reported trapped underground. Bill Gasperini has more for VOA from Moscow.

Local mining officials now say that 186 miners were down in the shafts when the methane-gas explosion ripped through the Ulyanovskaya mine in the Siberian region of Kemerovo.

The death toll from the mining disaster steadily increased throughout the day amid confusion about just how many miners were working underground when the blast occurred.

Emergency crews have been trying to reach scores of other miners still underground, whose routes back to the surface may have been cut off by the explosion.

As the scale of the disaster became apparent, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to travel to the scene of the accident to oversee the operation.

Methane gas explosions are the cause of many mining accidents in Russia, Ukraine and across the border in neighboring China. Experts blame the high rate of fatalities on aging infrastructure, lack of funding and poor enforcement of safety procedures.

But the Ulyanovskaya mine only opened five years ago, and uses modern equipment. The Kemerovo region's governor, Aman Tuleyev, criticized the mine owners for what he called a lack of proper equipment.

Tuleyev says the mine should have installed a safety control system from England, because he understands most mine experts say that is the correct way to insure safety.

Twenty-three miners died after a similar gas explosion in the Kemerovo region in 2005, while two separate accidents the year before left 60 others dead.