BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Fire and a methane gas explosion swept through a coal mine in the Serbian town of Aleksinac in eastern Yugoslavia Friday, apparently killing more than 90 men in one of the country's worst mine disasters, officials said.
'I was there when the fire swept the pit,' a miner, who would not reveal his name, told a local reporter in an interview aired on Belgrade Television Friday evening. 'It just cannot be described. When I arrived there, I saw fire, and other miners were behind the blaze. Nobody could help them.'
The fire broke out at 11:59 a.m. in the Morava pit, 1,900 feet underground in the Aleksinac mine, 124 miles southeast of Belgrade. It began in transport equipment and electric installations, according to a mine manager.
The fire caused a methane gas explosion and, about 10 hours later, with the fire still blazing, mine officials announced there were 166 miners in the pit when the fire broke out.
The officials could not agree on the number of miners rescued, leaving the number of dead expected to range between 93 and 99.
Rescue teams tried to reach the trapped miners and worked to extinguish the fire. None of those trapped were believed to have survived, and officials said rescuers would not be able to get to them until the fire is put out and smoke is cleared.
Yugoslavia's worst coal mine disaster was in 1965, when a methane gas explosion killed 128 miners in the central Yugoslav town of Kakanj. The last major disaster in the Aleksinac mine was in 1983, when a methane gas explosion killed 35 men.
Ambulances and hundreds of family members waited outside the Aleksinac mine Friday.
Hospitals in Aleksinac and the eastern Serbian town of Nis, in the Morava River valley, were put on alert, although most of the miners who survived the disaster escaped without injuries.
Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic and Communist Party chief Bogdan Trifunovic traveled from Belgrade to Aleksinac.