Hopes are fading of finding more survivor in a coal mine in western Turkey on Wednesday, where 238 workers were confirmed killed and 120 more still feared to be trapped in what is likely to prove the nation’s worst ever industrial disaster.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz acknowledged that numbers might rise as emergency responders attempt to rescue many more miners trapped two-thirds of a mile underground.
“We are worried that the death toll will rise… I have to say that our hopes are dimming in terms of the rescue efforts.”
Yildiz said, “Rescue operations will continue once smoke and CO2 levels are minimized.
Yildiz said early Wednesday that 787 people were working in the mine when the accident occurred, the Associated Press reports. He also said that carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of most of the fatalities. A local administrator said that the explosion and fire were caused by a power distribution unit.
A violent protest erupted Wednesday in Soma, Turkey, where the explosion and fire occurred.
Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the coalmine waiting for news, countered by a heavy police presence. Rows of women wailed uncontrollable, men knelt sobbing and others just stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed a steady stream of bodies throughout the night and early morning. Others shouted at Turkish officials as they passed by.
Anger over the deadly fire at the mine echoed across the 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 ignoring repeated warnings about the safety of the country’s mines.
“We as a nation of 77 million are experiencing a very great pain,” Erdogan told a news conference after visiting the site, at which he gave the figures for those confirmed dead and still thought missing. But he appeared to turn defensive when asked whether sufficient precautions had been in place at the mine.
Turkey’s Labor and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, including in March of 201e, and that no issues violating work safety and security were detected.
The company that owns the mine, located in Soma, approximately 155 miles south of Istanbul, confirmed that some of its workers were killed but would not give a specific number. The poor safety conditions of Turkey’s mining industry make accidents common.
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