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An explosion ripped through a coalmine in West Virginia on Monday, killing 25 workers and leaving four unaccounted for in one of the worst US mining disasters in decades, officials said.|
"Massey Energy Company is confirming 25 fatalities at its Upper Big Branch Mine, resulting from a tragic explosion," the company said in a statement.
The blast occurred toward the end of the afternoon at the mine run by Performance Coal Company, a sub-sidiary of Massey Energy, in the town of Mountcoal located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Charleston.
As well as four miners who were still missing, two others were hospitalized after the blast rocked the mine in Raleigh county, West Virginia, the company said.
"Our prayers go out to the families of the miners. We want to assure the families of all the miners we are taking every action possible to locate and rescue those still missing," said the company's chairman and chief executive, Don Blankenship.
President Barack Obama telephoned West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to offer "his deepest con-dolences to those who lost loved ones earlier today in the tragic incident," a White House statement said.
A massive rescue operation was launched after the blast, as local and volunteer firefighters rushed to the scene along with a fleet of ambulances and mine-safety crews tried to contact missing miners underground.
However, rescue work was suspended later due to high levels of toxic gas, officials said.
Manchin, who rushed home from a vacation upon learning about the news, said Obama had promised "every asset available" to help in the rescue effort.
In Washington, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller said he and his wife were "heartbroken" at the news. "We are sending all of our prayers and thoughts to the brave miners and their families."
According to official figures, annual fatalities from mining accidents have totaled fewer than 20 in West Virginia since 1983, except for in 1991 when there were 22 and in 2006 when there were 25.