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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Search Continues for 3 Missing in Mine Blast

NOVOKUZNETSK, Kemerovo region -- Emergency workers struggled with flooded caverns and flammable gas in their search Wednesday for three miners still missing following an underground explosion that killed at least 107 people.

Flags across the country flew at half-mast, church bells tolled nationwide and television stations took entertainment programming off the air Wednesday, an official day of national mourning over a trio of tragedies: the mine disaster, a nursing home fire that killed 63 and a weekend plane crash that killed six.

A methane explosion ripped through the mine in a coal-rich part of Siberia known as the Kuzbass on Monday, where about 200 workers were underground. Ninety-three made it to the surface safely.

Emergency officials said Wednesday that water, gas and structural damage in the Ulyanovskaya coal mine were slowing the search for those still missing. Crews were considering using pumps to dry out an area where officials believe the miners were trapped, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Divers sent underground covered 50 meters but were unable to go farther ­because their path was blocked by ­rubble, Shoigu said. He said authorities had hoped to complete the search ­Wednesday.

Shoigu also cautioned that it would be impossible to pinpoint quickly the precise cause of the blast, saying it would take at least two weeks to collect data from instruments in the mine that could help determine what happened.

Relatives gathered on Wednesday in a tent outside the main morgue in Novokuznetsk, a few standing at the door as sunshine gave way to a soft snowfall while they waited to be taken in to identify the dead. Sixty-three victims have been identified, said Valery Korchagin, spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry's regional branch.

The explosion, which was the worst in post-Soviet Russia's history, highlights the precarious and hazardous state of the country's mining industry, which fell into disrepair when government subsidies dried up after the Soviet collapse.

Nikolai Kultyn, an inspector with the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Inspection, said Tuesday that there were no gas monitors where the pocket of methane gas had accumulated. He said the high number of deaths was likely due to the fact that many people were in a small area at the time of the blast.