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    Death toll in W. Siberian mine blast revised to 104

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    According to the latest information, 104 people were killed in a methane explosion that hit a West Siberian coal mine Monday, an emergency service spokesperson said Tuesday.

    MOSCOW, March 20 (RIA Novosti) - According to the latest information, 104 people were killed in a methane explosion that hit a West Siberian coal mine Monday, an emergency service spokesperson said Tuesday.

    Earlier reports said 106 had been killed in the Ulyanovskaya mine in Novokuznetsk, the largest coal producing center in the Kemerovo Region, and 93 had been rescued of the 203 miners that had been underground at the time of the blast.

    "Fifty-four bodies have already been taken to the surface and 22 of them identified," the source said.

    Over 500 rescuers are working at the scene, the press service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations said.

    A commission investigating the accident said it ruled out human factor as a cause of the tragedy, the worst in the Kemerovo Region's history.

    Kemerovo Region Governor Aman Tuleyev said about 20 senior mine executives, who were testing new English safety equipment when the explosion occurred, had been killed.

    The chief engineer, the chief mechanic, a section manager and deputy directors of the Ulyanovskaya mine are among the victims.

    A British citizen was also identified among the dead. Ian Malcolm Robertson was a project manager at the IMC company that was conducting an assessment of coal reserves at the mine.

    Tuleyev confirmed his death: "He was a financial services consultant," the official said. "The mine had several loans and he [the British expert] wanted to evaluate coal reserves and the mine operations."

    The Russian Prosecutor General's Office said a criminal investigation had been launched into the explosion, and President Vladimir Putin has ordered the prime minister to supervise an investigation into the accident.

    Local authorities earlier said the blast was apparently caused by a build-up of methane gas in the mine shaft.

    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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