A methane explosion tore through a coal mine Wednesday in northern Kazakhstan, killing at least 32 miners, injuring three and leaving eight missing, a regional official said.

The blast occurred at the Lenin mine, said Zhanar Bekbanova, spokeswoman for the Karaganda regional administration. The mine is owned by Arcelor Mittal.

The bodies of 32 miners had been recovered, three were pulled out alive and hospitalized in serious condition, and rescuers were still looking for eight others, Bekbanova said.

More than 300 miners escaped on their own, said Stanislav Sytnik, a regional emergencies official.

A fire caused by the morning blast had been put out, Bekbanova said.

Arcelor Mittal said in a statement that it was unknown what caused the methane gas explosion, and that a full investigation would be launched.

"We deeply regret this tragic accident and extend our full sympathy and condolences to the families of everyone that has been affected," the company quoted Lakshmi Mittal, president of Arcelor Mittal, as saying. "Our current priority is to search for the missing miners, and to lend support to the families of the bereaved."

In December 2004, an explosion in another coal mine owned by Mittal Steel Temirtau in the Karaganda region killed 23 people.

Workers have long alleged that in the 11 years since it took over the ex-Soviet republic's largest metal factory in Karaganda, along with coal mines and power plants that provide it with fuel, Mittal has done little to improve their working conditions.

Mittal said he would travel to Kazakhstan this week to convey his condolences.

"The safety of our workers is a priority and the company will be working very closely with the authorities to discover the cause of this tragic event," Mittal said.

Arcelor Mittal is being formed by the merger of Mittal Steel Co. NV and Arcelor SA.