The blast at the Yubileinaya mine is the second to hit a mine owned and operated by OAO Yuzhkuzbassugol in two months — prompting a harsh warning from Russian industrial watchdog Rostekhnadzor, which said regional officials had sought to close down the Yubileinaya mine in the past.
"The owner and administration of the mine has repeatedly allowed violations of safety conditions of mine operation," the agency said.
The explosion occurred about 1,700 feet below the surface at the mine near Novokuznetsk, some 1,850 miles east of Moscow, around 7:30 a.m. (0330 GMT). A total of 179 miners were either brought to surface or made it out on their own, emergency department spokeswoman Natalia Lukash said.
Seven of those rescued were injured and emergency workers were looking for three miners still missing, she said.
Irina Andrianova, another emergency department spokeswoman, said 217 people had been working in the mine at the time of the blast. Her statement that the death toll had risen to 38 appeared to account for all those who had been in the mine.
Aman Tuleev, governor of the Kemerovo region where the mine is located, said the blast may have been caused by the collapse of a coal wall where drilling was taking place.
The blast highlighted the hazardous state of Russia's mining industry, which fell into disrepair when government subsidies dried up after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It also comes just over two months after 110 people died in a methane explosion at the Ulanovskaya mine in the same region, known as the Kuzbass. That blast was the deadliest accident in more than 60 years in Russia's mines.
Rostekhnadzor said Thursday that the Yuzhkuzbassugol's license might be suspended. The company is a subsidiary of coal and steel producer Evraz SA, which partly owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich.
On Tuesday, Rostekhnadzor fired or suspended five regional officials in connection with the March blast at Ulanovskaya.