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A methane gas explosion ripped through a newly opened...

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A methane gas explosion ripped through a newly opened coal mine in eastern Yugoslavia Tuesday night, killing eight workers and seriously injuring 53 others, police said.

Seventy four miners and West German experts whcewere installing new equipment escaped unharmed when the blast occurred 2,500 feet underground in the Morava pit, 124 miles southeast of Belgrade.

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'I felt a blow, I hit a wagon,' engineer Ljubisa Dimitrijevic told Belgrade Radio from her hospital bed in the town of Aleksinac.

'The dust was unbearable. It was methane, I knew it immediately,' she said, adding she helped pull two injured colleagues from the mine 'but I could not manage to make it for a third time.'

Among those killed was a West German mine expert and a woman engineer. Another West German engineer heklping install new equipment in the pit was injured and rushed to a Belgrade military hospital.

Mine officials said there were 135 people in the pit when the explosion occurred about 7:30 p.m.

The officials said the methane gas explosion might have been sparked by an electric short-circuit as firemen were working to extinguish a fire that had been smoldering in a corridor of the Morava pit for several days.

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Yugoslavia's last major coal mine disaster was in May 1982 when two methane gas explosions killed 39 coal miners at the central Yuvoslav town of Zenica.

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