At least 238 have been killed and 184 are still missing in a Turkish mining accident that took place in the Soma district south of Istanbul.
The miners died in a fire which broke out when a power distribution unit exploded on Tuesday afternoon, trapping some as deep as 1377 feet underground. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the latest casualty figures this afternoon as he visited the mine instead of a making a planned visit to Albania.
If the death toll climbs higher, the disaster may become Turkey's worst ever mining accident.
A total of 787 people were inside the mine at the time of the explosion, according to Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. Six more workers were pulled out this morning, but Yildiz was not optimistic about finding many more alive.
"I can say our hopes are fading," he told reporters.
The casualty toll was particularly high, he said, because the explosion happened just prior to a shift change, when there were more workers inside the mine than usual.
Friends and relatives of the workers gathered outside the mine waiting for news. Local media showed pictures of family members browsing photos of corpses to see if their loved ones were among the dead. Graves are already being dug in a nearby cemetery.
Grieving women embracing each other near the mine late on May 13.
Authorities have declared three days of national mourning.
The Turkish mining industry has a woeful safety record. The worst accident so far was in 1992, when 263 died in a gas explosion near the coastal town of Zonguldak. In total, 3,000 mineworkers have been killed and 100,000 injured in accidents since 1941, according to local sources.
A spat about who is responsible has already begun. Ozgur Ozel, a member of the Republican People's Party (CHP) told reporters that Erodgan's Justice and Development Party blocked a proposal for a parliamentary inquiry on coal mine work safety in Soma just three weeks ago.
Ozgur Ozel n opposition politician for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a motion to Turkey’s parliament to investigate safety standards and work-related accidents at coal mines in Soma.
Speaking at the site of the disaster, Erdogan criticized the safety inquiry proposal, describing it as an attempt to “change the political agenda,” and saying it “had nothing to do with the Soma mine,” according to the Turkish English Language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.
Mine owner Soma Holding, one of biggest coal producers in Turkey, said it would investigate the disaster, but that the facility had the "highest safety measures and constant controls." Meanwhile, the Turkish Labor and Social Security Ministry said in a statement that the company had been inspected on four occasions over the past two years, and that at the most recent inspection, which took place two months ago, everything had complied with regulations.
In Ankara, riot police used water cannons to disperse a group of students trying to march towards the Energy Ministry in protest at the disaster, according to local media. Protests also took place elsewhere in the country, including a number in Istanbul.
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