updated 2/9/2005 10:55:40 PM ET 2005-02-10T03:55:40

An explosion ripped through a mine in a coal-rich region of Siberia on Wednesday, killing at least 22 workers and three missing in the latest accident in an industry plagued by dilapidated shafts, aging equipment and safety violations.

A group of miners had been trying to keep a fire from spreading through the 20-year-old Yesaulskaya mine in the Kemerovo region when the blast erupted.

Five miners were hospitalized with injuries, said Olga Raskova of the Kemerovo regional government press service. One was in serious condition.

Thirty miners had been in the shaft when the blast occurred at the mine, about 1,850 miles east of Moscow, the press service said.

A duty officer for the Kemerovo regional Emergency Situations Ministry said 22 miners were confirmed dead late Wednesday, and three were unaccounted for.

“A shock wave came and it hurled us all, thrown into somersaults like in a circus,” miner Andrei Pshenichnikov, his face covered with cuts, said from his hospital bed in footage broadcast on NTV television. “Then I walked along the track, I don’t remember how long, I met security guards and they helped me.”

“As long as the last man is unaccounted for, only then when we will leave,” said Vasilly Korobeinikov, a mine foreman. “Time plays no role here. Only the search.”

Regional Governor Aman Tuleyev said occasional blasts could still be heard in the shaft, hampering rescue efforts.

The blast was caused by a methane build-up, according to a preliminary investigation.

Accidents are common in the Russian coal industry which, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, has lacks the public or private funds to invest in safety equipment and technical upgrades.

The deadliest disaster last year was a methane blast that killed 47 miners in the Kuzbass in April, and 67 miners were killed in a mine explosion in the same region in 1997. The Yesaulskaya mine, however, had never had a big accident in its history, the regional government press service said.

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