KEMEROVO (West Siberia), May 24 (RIA Novosti) - Rescue efforts have finished at a West Siberian coal mine torn by a methane explosion Thursday morning, which left 38 dead and seven injured, local emergency officials said, updating earlier reports of 35 dead and three missing.
"The death toll is 38 people," the emergencies department in the Kemerovo Region said. "179 miners were rescued, of whom seven were injured and have been hospitalized."
The explosion at the Yubileinaya mine occurred at 7.40 a.m. Moscow time (3.40 a.m. GMT), when 217 miners were working underground. The accident follows a powerful methane blast at a neighboring mine, owned by the same company, on March 19 when 110 miners died.
The emergencies department also said that all 38 bodies had been lifted out of the mine, and that identification would begin Friday.
A local health official said earlier three miners were in a serious condition.
Local prosecutors said they had launched an inquiry into a breach of mine safety rules. A technological safety watchdog said Yuzhkuzbasugol, Russia's largest underground coal mining company, could have its license to operate Yubileinaya and some other mines withdrawn.
Yuzhkuzbasugol, which is 50% owned by steel giant Evraz Group and runs 12 coal mines, denied this, saying it had "not received formal documentation to this effect."
The Federal Environmental, Engineering, and Nuclear Supervision Agency said it had repeatedly demanded work be suspended at Yubileinaya, but the demands were overruled in a local court, including at the latest hearing on April 10.
But the watchdog said in a statement it had managed to temporarily close down several sections of the mine over breaches in safety, including the shaft where the methane explosion occurred.
A Yuzhkuzbasugol spokesman said earlier Thursday the company had made efforts to improve safety systems at its mines, launched equipment checks and had been retraining safety engineers following the March 19 accident, the worst in Russia's coal mining industry in the last 75 years.
Yubileinaya was put into operation in 1966. Last year, about 900,000 metric tons of coal was produced there.
Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev declared Saturday a day of mourning in the region when the burial of the victims will take place. And a senior administration official said the families of those killed would receive compensation of at least 1 million rubles ($40,000) each.
A spokesman for Tuleyev said the governor would push for a change of the mine's ownership and Yuzhkuzbasugol's managers.
Evraz Group said it intends to "revise the strategy of its investments in Yuzhkuzbasugol" and consider all possibilities to reduce the company's technological and production risks.