Grief-stricken relatives undertook the painful task Friday of identifying loved ones among the 57 miners killed in a huge gas explosion deep inside a coal mine. An 18-year-old on his first day at work was among the dead.

Wives of dead miners burst into tears as they watched bodies being retrieved from the coal shaft grave and taken in metal coffins to a temporary mortuary."Many of these people were very active in our community. This catastrophe is an enormous loss for all of us," said Bernd Hessler, mayor of Borken, a town of 14,000 people 70 miles northeast of Frankfurt.

Flags flew at half-staff in front of Borken's city hall.

Rescue workers continued to remove the bodies from the mine Friday, and officials said the 23rd body was brought up by mid-morning. Officials said work was progressing slowly and could take several days.

Crowds of grieving relatives were gathered at the site.

"Stop, stop," one woman shouted at news photographers taking pictures of the bodies being removed.

Investigators said Friday they were learning more about what killed the victims.

"Several of those found had such great injuries that they could have died from those causes anyway, even without the carbon monoxide," said Stefan Walscher, the local prosecutor leading the investigation.

Investigators also said many of the miners suffocated. Some apparently died after their emergency breathing masks ran out of oxygen deep underground.

Ernst Wilke, head of Hesse state's district of Kassel, told reporters: "The search is being continued in every corner (f the mine)."

Workers were drilling two new emergency shafts to let more air into the mine to aid rescuers.

Fifty-seven miners were trapped 330 feet underground after Wednesday's explosion, and rescue workers say there is little hope any will be found alive.