Turkey coal mine explosion: miners need 'a major miracle' as hopes fade for 120 still trapped

Teams are continuing to try and rescue trapped workers after mine explosion

Hopes are fading for over 120 miners still trapped underground after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least 238 workers, the Energy Minister has said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visiting the mine this afternoon, confirmed the rise in the death toll as hopes receded as to how many more workers will be successfully brought out.

"We are heading towards this accident likely being the deadliest ever in Turkey," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters at the scene.

Most of the dead suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, Mr Yaldiz claimed. Oxygen is currently being pumped into the mines, where those trapped are reported to be two kilometres below the surface and almost four kilometres from the entrance.

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 three or five minutes," he told Reuters.

"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.

Mr Yildiz said the fire was still burning inside the mine in Soma, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of Istanbul, over 19 hours after the blast occurred when some 787 people were inside.

Questions are now being raised over why Mr Erdogan's ruling AKP party refused calls by the Republican People's Party in April for an investigation into work-related incidents of mines in Soma.

A proposal was submitted last year for investigations to be carried out into more than 4,500 reported accidents at mines in the region, but it was rejected three weeks ago, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.

The International Labour Organization ranked the EU candidate nation third worst in the world for worker deaths in 2012.

Mr Erdogan has declared three days of national mourning and lowered flags to half-staff.

A rescue operation carried out by more than 400 rescuers has continued overnight to free the hundreds are still trapped inside the mine, while only about 360 miners have been evacuated so far.

The Doğan News Agency has reported one of the victims of the disaster was a 15-year-old boy.

At least 80 miners have been injured, including four who were in serious condition, Mr Yildiz added, as he oversaw the rescue operation. A power-cut triggered by an electrical fault has made the mine cages unusable, further complicating rescue efforts.

The accident occurred when the workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which has raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside the mine than usual.

Reuters have reported a cold storage warehouse, usually used for food, and freezer trucks are acting as makeshift morgues as hospital facilities overflowed.

Medical staff intermittently emerged from the hospital to read the names of survivors being treated inside, with families and fellow workers clamouring for information.

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.

Workers from nearby mines were brought in to help the rescue operation.

During the night, people cheered and applauded as some trapped workers emerged from the mine, helped by rescuers, their faces and hard-hats covered in soot.  But dozens of ambulances drove back and forth to carry the rising number of bodies as well as injured workers extracted from the mine.

A man kisses his son after he was rescued from the mine A man kisses his son after he was rescued from the mine

SOMA Komur Isletmeleri AS, which owns the mine, said the accident occurred despite the “highest safety measures and constant controls” and added that 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.

Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

Additional reporting by agencies

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories