Accident Devastates Ukrainian Mining Town

Eighty-one workers were killed in an underground mine explosion Saturday in Ukraine, a country with the world's highest coal industry death rate.

A country began mourning the death of 81 people killed in an underground Ukrainian mine explosion Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

Funerals began yesterday for the miners killed in the blast at the Barakova mine near the eastern town of Krasnoden, about 435 miles east of Kiev.

Survivors of the former Soviet republic's worst mine disaster in decades described a confusing burst, a suffocating cloud of coal dust and the sickening smell of smoke before they were brought to the surface.

A preliminary investigation suggested that the accident was a methane explosion caused by a violation of safety regulations, the Interfax news agency quoted President Leonid Kuchma as saying.

But union officials said it could have been a coal dust explosion ignited by welding equipment.

Ukranian Fuel and Energy Ministry specialists were still conducting tests yesterday.

While Ukraine has the world's highest coal industry death rate, the Barakova mine had never experienced a major accident.

Officials said 80 of the 277 miners who were underground at the time of the explosion died on the spot.

Most of the others escaped safely. One died Sunday in the hospital. Seven coal workers remained hospitalized.

The accident underlined the messy state of Ukraine's coal industry.

Equipment is outdated and dangerous, and most of Ukraine's more than 400,000 coal workers do not receive their wages on time.

The average monthly wage of Barakova miners is $170, said Ukraine's Energy Minister Serhiy Tulub.

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