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    Death toll in West Siberia mine explosion rises to 97 people

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    The death toll in a methane explosion at a mine in West Siberia on Monday has risen to 97, the emergencies ministry said Tuesday.

    KEMEROVO, March 20 (RIA Novosti) - The death toll in a methane explosion at a mine in West Siberia on Monday has risen to 97, the emergencies ministry said Tuesday.

    According to latest reports, 92 of some 203 miners have been rescued up to now from the Ulyanovskaya mine in Novokuznetsk, the largest coal producing center in the Kemerovo Region.

    Rescuers are continuing work at the site. Early morning reports said rescue workers had brought 38 bodies up to the surface and 22 of them have been identified. At least 30 miners still remain underground.

    The Russian Prosecutor General's Office said a criminal investigation had been launched into the explosion.

    The press service of the regional administration said the explosion was apparently caused by a build-up of methane gas in the shaft of the mine.

    Explosions are not uncommon in Russia's crumbling coal mining industry. Earlier this year, a miner was killed February 25 when a shaft collapsed at a coal mine in the Kemerovo Region and a miner was killed and nine injured during a similar accident on March 1 at another coal mine in the same region.

    But the Ulyanovksaya mine was only opened in 2002. It produces 3 million metric tons of coal annually and its reserves total 210 million metric tons.

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