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Race to save scores trapped after Russia coal mine disaster

Authorities are rushing to save 84 people - including 19 rescue workers – trapped in a Russia coal mine after two powerful explosions.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (l.) and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu (r.) take part in a conference call on the rescue work in the Raspadskaya mine after a Russia coal mine explosion, Sunday.

Alexei Druzhinin/RIA-Novosti/AP

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Two powerful blasts at Russia's largest coal mine Sunday killed at least 12 miners and left 84 people – including 19 rescue workers – trapped deep underground while emergency services scramble to clear smoke and deadly gas from the stricken tunnels.

About 360 people were working at the Raspadskaya mine, in the western Siberian coal region of Kemerovo, when the Russia coal mine disaster struck early Sunday morning.

The first explosion, reportedly caused either by methane or pockets of highly-volatile pulverized coal dust, killed four miners and injured dozens more.

The second blast hit four hours later, as rescue workers were trying to evacuate the shaft, killing eight more and trapping scores in the lower tunnels – almost half a kilometer underground – which authorities described as choked with smoke and laced with volatile gas.

The second explosion, which shattered the mine's ventilation systems and damaged buildings on the surface, forced authorities to abandon rescue efforts until emergency pumps could be brought in to restore the flow of air through the tunnels. As of Sunday evening no one was sure how long that might take.

"By all accounts, the situation is hard, very hard at the Raspadskaya mine. I would say, it is tragic," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told an urgent Cabinet meeting in Moscow.

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