Moscow, Nov 20 (UNI) The death toll in the methane gas blast in a mine in eastern Ukraine has risen to 88, with 12 miners still missing, Russian news agencies reported today quoting the Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry.
An explosion early on Sunday in the Zasyadko coalmine in the Donetsk Region, the heart of the country's coal industry, had resulted in a fire. A total of 457 miners were underground at the time of the blast. As many as 357 were brought up to the surface alive, with 31 of them hospitalised.
Fire, smoke and falling rocks have hampered the search and rescue effort, dimming hope that more miners could still be found alive.
The Zasyadko coalmine is notorious for fatal accidents - a methane gas explosion killed 50 miners in 1999, with 20 dying in another explosion three years later. A gas leak at the mine killed 13 miners and injured dozens more in September 2006.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko declared today a national day of mourning. Flags are flying at half-mast and entertainment programmes on television and radio have been cancelled.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to Yushchenko, expressing condolences in connection with the methane blast.
''I was deeply shocked by reports on the tragedy at the Zasyadko mine in the Donetsk region, which claimed a lot of lives,'' the press service quoted him as saying.
''We sincerely share the grief of fraternal Ukraine and see the accident as our common misfortune. I ask you to convey words of support and sympathy to the next-of-kin of the dead and wish an early recovery to all those who were injured in the accident,'' Mr Putin said.