ANKARA, Turkey , 14 May-2014(AFP): An explosion and a fire Tuesday killed at least 201 workers at a coal mine in western Turkey and trapped several others underground, the country’s disaster agency said as it launched a massive rescue operation.
AP Photo/IHARescue workers at the entrance of the mine after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014.
It was not immediately clear how many more miners were still trapped in the coal mine in the town of Soma, some 250 kilometres south of Istanbul.
Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution centre.
A government official told The Associated Press that the death toll was expected to rise further.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the situation was “worrisome” and rescue efforts would last until the morning.
Earlier, Turkey’s disaster and emergency management agency said about 20 people had been rescued from the site, 11 of them with injuries.
Television footage showed people cheering and applauding as some trapped workers emerged out of the mine, helped by rescuers, their faces and hard-hats covered in soot. One wiped away tears on his jacket, another smiled, waved and flashed a “thumbs up” sign at onlookers.
The accident occurred during a shift change so the exact number of trapped workers was not known. Authorities had said the blast left between 200 to 300 miners underground but the disaster agency later gave the number as “more than 200 workers.”
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said some 780 people were working inside at the time of the accident in the coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometres from Istanbul.
There was no information on the condition of those trapped. But the disaster management agency said authorities were preparing for the possibility that the death toll could jump dramatically, making arrangements to set up a cold storage facility to hold the corpses of miners recovered from the site.
“Evacuation efforts are underway. I hope that we are able to rescue them,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier in televised comments. His office said Erdogan postponed a one-day visit to Albania on Wednesday over the accident and would visit Soma instead.
Rescuers were pumping fresh air into the mine and rescue teams from neighbouring regions rushed to the area, said Taner, the energy minister, who immediately went to Soma to oversee the rescue operation.
But the rescue effort was being hampered by the fact that the mine was made up of tunnels that were kilometres long, said Cengiz Ergun, the leader of Manisa province, where the town is located.