December 18, 2014
Turkish mine disaster: Death toll rises to 245
Hopes faded of finding more survivors in a coal mine in western Turkey, where 245 workers were confirmed killed and around 120 still feared to be trapped in what is likely to prove the nation's worst ever industrial disaster.
Anger over the deadly fire at the mine about 480 km (300 miles) southwest of Istanbul echoed across a country that has seen a decade of rapid economic growth but still suffers from one of the world's worst workplace safety records.
Opponents blamed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government for privatising the country's mines and ignoring repeated warnings about their safety.
"We as a nation of 77 million are experiencing a very great pain," Erdogan told a news conference after visiting the site. But he appeared to turn defensive when asked whether sufficient precautions had been in place at the mine.
"Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It's not like these don't happen elsewhere in the world," he said, reeling off a list of global mining accidents since 1862.
The fire knocked out power and shut down ventilation shafts and elevators shortly after 3 pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday. Emergency workers pumped oxygen into the mine to try to keep those trapped alive during a rescue effort that lasted through the night. Thousands of family members and co-workers gathered outside the town's hospital searching for information on their loved ones.
"We haven't heard anything from any of them, not among the injured, not among the list of dead," said one elderly woman, Sengul, whose two nephews worked in the mine along with the sons of two of her neighbours.
"It's what people do here, risking their lives for two cents ... They say one gallery in the mine has not been reached, but it's almost been a day," she said.
A mechanical digger opened a row of fresh graves at Soma's main cemetery. An imam presided over the funeral of six miners as a few hundred mourners wept in silence.
The fire broke out during a shift change, leading to uncertainty over the exact number of miners trapped. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the death toll was 245. Late yesterday he said 787 workers had been in the mine.
The mine operator Soma Komur Isletmeleri said nearly 450 miners had been rescued from the site and that the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide. It said the cause was not yet clear.
Initial reports suggested an electrical fault caused the blaze but Mehmet Torun, a board member and former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers who was at the scene, said a disused coal seam had heated up, expelling carbon monoxide through the mine's tunnels and galleries.
"They are ventilating the shafts but carbon monoxide kills in 3 or 5 minutes," he told Reuters by telephone.
"Unless we have a major miracle, we shouldn't expect anyone to emerge alive at this point," he said, pointing to an outside chance that workers may have found air pockets to survive.