KIEV, Ukraine — A blast at a coal mine in eastern Ukraine and an elevator collapse at another on Friday killed at least 20 people, officials said. Rescuers were still searching for 17 miners missing at both mines.
The twin accidents in eastern mining regions shocked the country and highlighted the persistent dangers of the Ukrainian mining industry, believed to be one of the world's most dangerous because of outdated equipment and widespread disregard for safety regulations.
The pre-dawn blast at the notoriously dangerous Suhodilska-Eastern mine in the Luhansk region killed 17 workers and left nine missing. Investigators suspect the accident was caused by a powerful explosion of methane, the Luhansk regional administration said in a statement.
The blast hit the mine shortly before 2 a.m. Friday at a depth of 3,000 feet (915 meters) when miners were working the night shift.
Emergency Situations Ministry photos showed worried relatives of the miners talking nervously to officials and rescue workers outside the mine's headquarters, as medical and emergency trucks were parked nearby.
Mykhailo Volynets, the head of the Independent Trade Union of Miners, called the mine "one of the most dangerous in Ukraine" due to buildups of methane and coal dust.
Hours after the blast, an accident hit another mine in eastern Ukraine. An elevator used to transport miners and equipment in and out of the Bazhanova mine in the eastern Donetsk region collapsed, killing three workers and leaving eight others missing, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Yulia Yershova. Hundreds of other workers laboring at a different section of the mine were trying to leave through emergency exists and pathways, she said.
Senior government officials arrived Friday morning at the Suhodilska-Eastern mine and were working to establish the cause of the explosion. President Viktor Yanukovych was also expected to fly to the site later in the day, according to his office.
Volynets said 70 percent of the equipment at Ukrainian mines is outdated and urgently needs replacement.