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238 killed in coal mine accident

By Agencies in Soma, Turkey (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-15 07:12

238 killed in coal mine accident

An injured miner is carried to an ambulance after being rescued from a coal mine in Turkey's western province of Manisa on Tuesday. The death toll from an explosion and fire at the mine continued to rise on Wednesday as workers were still retrieving the dead and injured more than 12 hours after the blast, the country's energy minister said. Emre Tazegul / Reuters

At least 200 still trapped after explosion, blaze in western Turkey

Rescuers raced desperately against time to reach more than 200 miners trapped underground on Wednesday after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least 238 workers, authorities said.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, about 250 kilometers south of Istanbul, at the time of the explosion, and 363 of them had been rescued so far.

Yildiz said he is worried that the number of deaths could increase.

"The problem is more serious than we thought. It is developing into an accident with the highest worker death toll Turkey has seen so far," he said.

Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

As bodies were brought out on stretchers, rescue workers pulled blankets back from the faces of the dead to give jostling crowds of anxious family members a chance to identify victims. One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police restrained him from climbing into an ambulance with the body.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared three days of national mourning, ordering flags to be lowered to half-staff. Erdogan postponed a one-day visit to Albania and planned to visit Soma instead.

Fifty-seven people were confirmed injured, Yildiz told reporters in Soma, where he was overseeing operations by more than 400 rescuers. He had earlier put the injured total at 80, including four in serious condition.

The explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because there were more miners than usual inside.

The minister said the fire was still raging inside the mine 18 hours after the blast. The air around the mine swirled with smoke and soot. The deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, Yildiz said.

An injured rescue worker who emerged alive was whisked away on a stretcher to the cheers of onlookers.

Yildiz said rescue operations were hindered because the mine had not been completely cleared of gas.

Authorities said the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.

Yildiz had said earlier that some of the workers were 420 meters deep inside the mine. News reports said the workers could not use lifts to escape because the explosion had cut off power.

Workers from nearby mines were brought in to join the rescue operation. One 30-year-old man who declined to give his name said he rushed to the scene to try to help find his brother, who was still missing early Wednesday. He said he was able to make it about 150 meters inside before gasses forced him to retreat.

"There is no hope," he said with tears in his eyes.

During the night, people cheered and applauded as some trapped workers emerged, their faces and hard hats covered in soot. Dozens of ambulances drove back and forth to carry the rising number of bodies as well as injured workers.

Emine Gulsen, part of a group of women who sat wailing near the entrance to the mine, chanted in song, "My son is gone, my Mehmet." Her son, Mehmet Gulsen, 31, has been working in the mine for five years.

Mehmet Gulsen's aunt, Makbule Dag, held out hope. "Inshallah" (God willing), she said.

Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital to keep the crowds away.

SOMA Komur Isletmeleri AS, which owns the mine, said the accident occurred despite the "highest safety measures and constant controls", and added that an investigation was being launched.


238 killed in coal mine accident

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