A methane gas explosion and fire tore through a deep Ukrainian coal mine Saturday, killing at least 31 miners and injuring 48 others, emergency officials said.
At least 30 miners were missing, and the death toll was expected to rise, said Mykola Neshko, a spokesman for the Donetsk region Emergencies Ministry.Neshko said it was Ukraine's worst coal mine accident since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The blast occurred at a depth of more than 3,600 feet in the Skachinskoho mine in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, said Ivan Dunayev, a spokesman for Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry.
There were 269 miners at work at the time, Dunayev said.
"Unfortunately, we expect more victims because the explosion was followed by a fire," he said.
Neshko said 43 miners had been hospitalized and another five were seriously injured but still inside the mine. Twenty-nine bodies had been recovered by Saturday evening.
Television broadcast footage of rescuers giving oxygen to injured miners on stretchers, all coated thickly with black coal dust. Lines of yellow ambulances waited to take them to nearby hospitals.
The Skachinskoho mine, about 400 miles southeast of Kiev, was also the site of independent Ukraine's worst previous coal accident. Seventeen people - six miners and 11 rescue workers - died in a methane gas explosion in 1992.
Vice Premier Mykola Biloblotskiy called for a national day of mourning on Monday.
Emergency officials said they had not determined what caused Saturday's blast.
Accidents have become endemic in the Ukrainian coal industry, part of an overall pattern of post-Soviet deterioration.