In one of the deadliest mining disasters recorded in Iran, 23 people were killed after an explosion at a coal mine on Wednesday and dozens more were trapped thousands of feet underground, state media reported.
Ambulances and emergency rescue teams rushed to the mine outside Azadshahr, in northeastern Iran's Golestan province, and retrieved the bodies of the miners, most of whom had been trapped about 2,000 feet below ground, the news website Khabar Online reported.
By nightfall, news agencies reported that 32 miners were still trapped about 6,000 feet below ground. They were not expected to survive as carbon monoxide had filled the mine, officials said.
Officials blamed the explosion on an accumulation of methane gas, and several rescuers who entered the mine were treated for asphyxiation.
Television news footage from the scene showed injured men sitting dazed on the ground and being loaded into ambulances as rescue workers carried oxygen tanks toward the site of the explosion.
Iran's labor minister, Ali Rabiei, was traveling to the mine, which is about 200 miles northeast of Tehran, in a province that lies along the Caspian Sea and the border with Turkmenistan.
Critics blamed the Iranian government for mismanagement and poor labor and safety standards. One rescued miner told local media that he had detected the smell of gas inside the mine a day earlier and reported it to his supervisor, although it was unclear whether any action was taken.
It was the second fatal accident at Zemestanyort mine in the last year. In July, an explosion caused by accumulated gas killed one person and injured two, according to Iran's Mehr news agency.
Mostaghim is a special correspondent.
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12:25 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect a higher death toll.
6:58 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.
5:35 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details from Iranian news agencies, as well as a report that two workers died in the explosion.