An explosion more than half a mile underground killed 22 miners and injured 103 today at a coal mine in the Lorraine region of eastern France, company officials said.
"We strongly suspect it was a firedamp explosion (methane mixed with air)," a company spokesman said.
He said 923 miners were working in the pit at the Simon mine when the explosion occurred.
Throughout the morning, rescue teams worked their way toward the site of the explosion, fighting thick dust and smoke. They recovered 19 bodies and struggled to retrieve the remaining three.
Authorities ordered workers out of other pits around the Simon mine and closed two lanes of the superhighway near Forbach, close to the border with West Germany, to permit quick evacuation of the injured, most of them suffering from gas inhalation, shock and fractures.