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US mine blast toll rises to 25

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Tue Apr 6, 2010 5:50pm AEST

Four miners are still missing deep underground after an explosion ripped through a US coal mine, killing 25 people.

The accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, was one of the deadliest at a US coal mine in recent years.

Mine officials said the death toll rose after rescuers discovered more bodies underground hours after the blast.

US Mine Safety and Health Administration spokesman Kevin Strickland said four men were still missing.

"This is still a rescue operation," he said, adding however that there was little hope the miners would be found alive.

The mine, owned by Massey Energy, has two emergency chambers stocked with food, water and enough air to survive for four days, and rescuers were still hoping the missing miners had made their way there.

Mr Strickland said rescue teams were forced to pull back from the search area because of a continuing threat of methane gas underground.

The rescuers intended to drill a borehole from the surface above the mine to try to reach the missing men.

Rescuers included officials from state and federal mine safety agencies and first responders from all levels of government, said Leslie Fitzwater, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Commerce.

Earlier, Massey CEO Don Blankenship said the company was "taking every action possible to locate and rescue those still missing".

In the worst coal mine disaster in US history, 362 miners died in an explosion in 1906 in West Virginia's Monongah mine.

In January 2006, 12 miners died after an explosion in the Sago Mine, run by International Mines Corp in Tallsmansville, West Virginia, according to the US Mine Rescue Association.

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