CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Five fatal accidents in December pushed the total number of coal miners killed on the job last year to 38, the highest national toll in four years.

Kentucky led the nation with 13 dead, according to preliminary figures from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, a division of the Labor Department. In other states with high coal-mining activity, West Virginia was listed by the agency as having nine deaths.

The tally represents the third consecutive year of increases in fatal accidents. In 1999, 34 coal miners died on the job and, in 1998, 29 miners died.

Two of the five December deaths occurred in Virginia, and one each in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

The agency also reported 47 fatal accidents nationwide last year in metal and nonmetal mines, down from 55 in 1999.

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