Turkey coal mine disaster: Desperate search at Soma pit

  • 14 May 2014
  • From the section Europe

Rescuers are hunting desperately for scores of Turkish coal miners still missing after an explosion caused a pit to collapse, killing at least 245.

Dozens escaped the pit in the western town of Soma, but officials say about 120 are still unaccounted for.

On a visit to Soma, PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan said every aspect of the tragedy would be investigated and "no stone would be left unturned".

But protests erupted in the town, with crowds hurling abuse at the government.

Frantic relatives have gathered at the mine, waiting for news of loved ones.

As ambulances took away an increasing number of bodies, some of the bereaved wailed uncontrollably and were carried away by their families.

Nearly 450 workers have been rescued, according to the mine operator. However, no survivors have been found in the last few hours.

Mr Erdogan said 80 of those rescued had been treated for injuries, none of which were serious. Nineteen of these had already been discharged from hospital.

"I just want everybody to know that the disaster will be investigated in every aspect and will continue to be investigated and we are not going to allow any negligence, or leave any stone unturned," he told journalists in Soma.

Earlier he announced three days of mourning for the victims.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Soma says family members of missing miners are gathered at the hospital. They told him they would not move from there until they got information about their loved ones.

Meanwhile police fired tear gas and water cannon at about 800 protesters angered by the disaster as they tried to march from a university in Ankara to the energy ministry.

There were also reports of a protest in Istanbul outside the headquarters of Soma Holding, the company that owns the mine.

Far below ground

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people had been inside the mine when an electrical fault triggered the blast.

He added that carbon monoxide poisoning had claimed many lives.

The electrical fault triggered a power cut, making the mine cages unusable. Those trapped are reported to be 2km (1.2 miles) below the surface and 4km from the mine entrance.

The blast happened at about 12:30 GMT on Tuesday.

People still waiting for news of missing relatives gathered at the hospital in Soma, Manisa province
An injured miner is rescued from the mine
For some, such as this father reunited with his son, it is good news
But the agonising wait continues for many others

TV footage overnight showed rescuers helping workers from the mine, their faces and hard-hats covered in soot and dust. Some were carried on stretchers to waiting ambulances.

But by mid-morning, reporters at the scene said only the dead were being recovered.

Turkish mining industry

1,308

Fatal accidents since 2000

  • 263 Died in 1992 disaster

  • 13,000 Miners involved in accidents in 2013

  • 10.4% Of all work-related accidents last year

AP

Emine Gulsen, one of a group of women sitting near the entrance to the mine, cried: "My son is gone, my Mehmet." Mehmet, 31, had been working there for five years.

Coal mining is a major industry in the Soma area, helping to supply a nearby lignite-fired thermal power plant, but safety has long been a concern. Nearly 40% of Turkey's electricity production depends on coal.

The Soma mine was privatised in 2005.

An MP with Turkey's opposition CHP party has accused the government of rejecting a recent proposal for a parliamentary inquiry into mine accidents in Soma.

Ozgur Ozel told Today's Zaman newspaper that the motion had substantial support among opposition parties.

Our correspondent says Prime Minister Erdogan will see this tragedy as a test of his reputation, and he will be aware that the previous government lost an election after being seen to have mishandled the 1999 earthquake.

Turkey's worst mining disaster was in 1992, when 263 miners were killed near Zonguldak, on the Black Sea.

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