157 killed in Turkish mine disaster, hundreds trapped
AT LEAST 157 people are thought to have died and up to 400 miners are still trapped after a coal mine collapsed in Turkey.
MP Muzaffer Yurttas, citing health officials, said 20 bodies had been retrieved from the mine in the province of Manisa, west Turkey but that 137 more are said to have been killed according to Turkish rescue services.
Mr Yurttras also said that at least another 30 workers had been taken to hospital following an explosion and fire at the coal mine.
Rescue workers believe that between 300 and 400 people are still trapped. Initial reports said that 20 workers were killed and 30 were wounded in the accident. They died of choking and burns a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told local TV station NTV. It later emerged that
137 more deaths had been reported. It is understood that a massive explosion forced the collapse of the mine and a huge fire then broke out.
The explosion is thought to have been triggered by an electrical fault, a mile below ground while up to 600 workers were at the site.
The bodies of several workers, believed to have died from suffocation and burns, were retrieved.
The hundreds who were thought to be trapped were believed to be in shifts and tunnels up to 2.5 miles from the nearest exit.
The blast happened during a change in shifts, leading to the original uncertainty over the exact number of workers still in the mine.
The facility has only been open a year.
It is the site of the one of the largest coal reserves in the world.
Fire officials were desperately trying to pump clean air into the mine shaft for those who remain trapped.
"They are pumping oxygen into the mine, but the fire is still burning," Tamer Kucukgencay, chairman of the regional labor union, said.
Taner Yildiz, the energy minister, said four rescue teams were working inside the mine to find those still trapped.
"The fire is creating a problem but oxygen is being pumped into the mine shafts that weren't affected," he said.
"It is a serious accident. Our priority is to reach our miner brothers ... any figure we give could well be wrong."
NTV said the accident occurred some two kilometres deep inside the mine.
"It is a serious accident," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters before leaving to oversee the Soma rescue operation.
Mr Yildiz said rescuers were pumping fresh air into the mine and rescue teams from neighbouring regions were rushing to the area.
Journalists were being kept away from the site.
But a witness told NTV that ambulances were seen leaving the area.
Families gathered outside the hospital in the town of Soma, less than 150 miles from Istanbul seeking news of their loves ones.
SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the mine, confirmed that a number of its workers were killed but did not say how many.
It said the accident occurred despite "highest safety measures and constant controls" and an investigation was being launched. "Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones," the company said in a statement.
Mining accidents are common in Turkey where poor safety conditions are commonplace.
Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak. (© Daily Telegraph, London)