Death Toll Rises As Turkey Braces Itself For Its Worst Mine Disaster Ever
Emergency services are desperately searching for survivors after an explosion caused a mine to collapse in Turkey. According to BBC the explosion on Tuesday at 12:20pm (GMT) killed at least 238 people, but 120 are still unaccounted for.
The mine is in the town of Soma, which is in the west of the country. Around 80 people have been treated for minor injuries, and many more bodies are now being removed from the scene. Nineteen people have already been released from hospital.
More than 350 miners have been rescued but no survivors have been found in the last couple of hours. Leading authorities to fear that those who did not escape immediately are likely to have been killed.
On a visit to the scene the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered his condolences to families of the dead and said that a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the explosion was already underway. He also announced three days of mourning for those who lost their lives.
The Turkish Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, said nearly 800 people were inside the mine when an electrical fault caused the explosion. He said: "The count is going in the direction that worried us…We are headed toward Turkey's highest ever worker deaths in an accident."
The electrical fault that caused the explosion also cut the power to the cages (elevators). When they stopped working they left anyone inside the mine trapped 1.2 miles below the earth’s surface.
Around 120 are still thought to be in the mine, but there are fears that they may have already lost their lives. Many of the fatalities were as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, so authorities have been pumping oxygen into the mine to help anyone who may still be alive.
Whilst families have gathered at hospitals hoping desperately for news protestors took to the streets of Ankara. Around 800 protesters marched from the University to the Department for Energy. Police repelled them with tear gas and water cannon. There were also reports of clashes between protesters and the police in Istanbul.
Sena Isbiler, a mother of one of the miners, told the AFP news agency: "I have been waiting for my son since early afternoon. I haven't heard anything about him yet."
The mine's owners, Soma Komur Isletmeleri, said they would investigate the accident, but claimed their mine enjoyed the "highest safety measures and constant controls".
The company is the largest underground mining company in Turkey producing produces 250,000 tons of coal a month from the Soma field. According to their website this is mostly sold to the electricity producers.
In a statement it said: "Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones."
Business Week reports that the company had been expected to produce coal from the field for around $140 a ton, but instead committed to making a profit out of mining it for $23.80. The discrepancy between the two figures is likely to raise concerns that corners were being cut.
This is not the first time Turkey's has suffered a large mining disaster. In 1992, 263 miners were killed by a gas explosion near Zonguldak, on the Black Sea. Also between 2000 and 2009 around 26,000 Turkish miners were injured and 63 were killed in accidents.