Riot police clash with protesters in Ankara during a
demonstration blaming the ruling AK Party government for
the mining disaster in western Turkey. REUTERS/Stringer
Hopes have 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
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 as of 1600 GMT was
245. Late on Tuesday he said 787 workers had been in the
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
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
The disaster highlighted Turkey's poor record on worker
safety and drew renewed opposition calls for an inquiry into
a drop in safety standards at previously state-run mines. The
International Labour Organization ranked the EU candidate
nation third worst in the world for worker deaths in 2012.
In Istanbul, police fired tear gas and water cannon to
disperse several thousand demonstrators, some wearing miners'
hard hats and headlamps, some waving left-wing party flags.
"Government resign," the protesters chanted as they marched
along the city's Istiklal Avenue before the police
intervened, sending them scattering into side streets. Police
also clashed with protesters in the capital Ankara and there
were protests in other cities.
Erdogan earlier declared three days of national mourning and
cancelled an official visit to Albania. President Abdullah
Gul also cancelled a trip to China scheduled for Thursday in
order to travel to Soma.
"We are heading towards this accident likely being the
deadliest ever in Turkey," Yildiz told reporters, adding that
"hopes were dimming" of finding many more survivors.
A pall of smoke hung above the area and Yildiz said the fire
was still burning underground, hampering the rescue
Turkey's disaster management agency AFAD said in an email 85
people had been treated for their injuries.
Freezer trucks and a cold storage warehouse usually used for
food served 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.
"This isn't a huge city. Everyone has neighbours, relatives
or friends injured, dead or still trapped. I am trying to
prepare my family for the worst," said Hasan Dogan, 27,
watching TV news reports from a canteen set up outside the
Some 16,000 people from a population of 105,000 in the
district of Soma work in the mining industry, according to
Erkan Akcay, a local opposition politician. The district is
no stranger to tragedies, but never before on this scale.
The words "For those who give a life for a handful of coal"
are engraved on the entrance wall to the emergency clinic.
Teams of psychiatrists were being pulled together to help
counsel the families of victims. Paramilitary police guarded
the entrance to the mine to keep distressed relatives at a
safe distance, as residents offered soup, water and bread.
"They haven't brought any ambulances in such a long time that
we've started to lose hope," said Hatice Ersoy, 43, a woman
in a headscarf sitting on a pavement outside the hospital.
Several hundred people chanted "Government resign!" at Soma's
local government building as Erdogan visited the town.
Earlier some 200 people protested in front of the Istanbul
headquarters of the operator Soma Komur. The company said in
a brief statement late on Tuesday there had been "a grave
accident" caused by an explosion in a substation.
Turkey's rapid growth over the past decade has seen a
construction boom and a scramble to meet soaring energy
demand, with worker safety standards often failing to keep
pace. It is a net importer of coal.
Its safety record in coal mining has been poor for decades,
with its deadliest accident to date in 1992, when a gas blast
killed 263 workers in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.
The Labour Ministry said late on Tuesday its officials had
carried out regular inspections at the Soma mine, most
recently in March, and that no irregularities had been
But Hursit Gunes, a deputy from the main opposition
Republican People's Party, said a previous request for a
parliamentary inquiry into safety and working conditions at
mines around Soma had been rejected by the ruling AK Party.
"I'm going to renew that parliamentary investigation demand
today. If (the government) has been warned about this and
they did nothing, then people will be angry, naturally. The
opposition warned them. But there's unbelievable lethargy on
this issue," Gunes told Reuters.
The ILO in 2012 said Turkey had the highest rate of worker
deaths in Europe and the world's third-highest. In the mining
sector, 61 people died in 2012, according to the ILO's latest
statistics. Between 2002 and 2012, the death toll at Turkish
mines totalled more than 1,000.