DONETSK, Ukraine - A methane blast ripped through a coal mine in eastern Ukraine early yesterday, killing at least 63 miners in the former Soviet nation's worst mining accident in seven years, emergency officials said.
More than 360 miners were rescued but 37 others remained trapped inside the mine - one of Ukraine's largest and deepest - with a raging fire hampering efforts to save them, officials said.
The explosion occurred about 3 a.m. more than 3,300 feet deep inside the Zasyadko mine in the regional capital Donetsk, the heart of the country's coal mining industry, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.
Authorities removed 367 miners. Twenty-eight were hospitalized, the ministry said.
Vitaliy Kvitkovsky, a miner in his 30s, was among those taken out. He said he had to walk over the bodies of dead colleagues along the rail track to climb to the surface.
"The temperature increased sharply and there was so much dust that I couldn't see anything," Kvitkovsky said in footage broadcast on television. "So I was moving by touch."
The accident highlighted the lack of attention to safety in a country with some of the world's most dangerous mines.
President Viktor Yushchenko blamed his Cabinet for not doing enough to reform coal mining and ordered an official panel to investigate the accident and bring those responsible to account.
Dozens of relatives gathered at the mine's headquarters in Donetsk waiting for news on their loved ones. As officials emerged to announce the names of the dead, many relatives broke into sobs and cries, and some fainted.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, a native of the mining region, visited the site about 450 miles southeast of Kiev, pledging to help victims' families.