Turkey Coal Mine Explosion: Over 200 Killed With Hundreds Still Trapped Underground

A coal-mine explosion in Western Turkey killed at least 201 workers in the nation's worst mining accident in more than two decades.

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Turkish Mining Company Denies Negligence After More Than 280 People Died In Coal Mine Explosion

Relatives mourn during the funeral for the victims of a mining disaster in Soma, Turkey. Rescuers are still trying to reach parts of the coal mine in Soma, 480 km southwest of Istanbul

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The operator of the Turkish mine where 284 workers were killed this week in Turkey‘s worst ever mining disaster said today there was no negligence on the part of the company and that it still did not know the exact cause of the disaster.

“It was an unbelievable accident in a place where there have been very few accidents in 30 years,” Soma Holding chairman Alp Gurkan told a news conference. “A mine with top level miners, accepted as being the most trustworthy and organised.”

“We still do not know how the accident happened. There is no negligence of ours in this incident. We all worked heart and soul,“ said Akin Celik, the plant manager of the mine, run by Soma Holding. The operator of a Turkish mine in which 284 people died this week and 18 remain trapped said today the exact cause of a fire was still unclear but that a build-up of heat had caused a partial collapse in the plant.

The company said a total of 787 workers had been in the mine at the time, of which 122 had been hospitalised and a further 363 rescued. Hopes are fading of pulling out any more of those still thought to be inside.

Rescuers were still trying to reach parts of the coal mine in Soma, 480km southwest of Istanbul, three days after a fire knocked out power and shut down the ventilation shafts and elevators, trapping hundreds underground in Turkey’s worst ever mining disaster.

PHOTOS: Protests Over Turkey Mine Disaster

Police arrest a protester in Ankara on May 14.

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Yusuf Yerkel, an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kicks a person who is being wrestled to the ground by two police officers during protests in Soma, Turkey, on Wednesday, May 14. Hundreds have taken to the streets across the country since nearly 300 miners died in a mine fire near Soma on May 13, protesting the government and a lack of safety regulations. Unions have called for strikes May 15.

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Riot police try to stop protesters attacking the offices of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in Soma on May 14.

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Protesters riot outside the Justice and Development Party office in Soma.

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People march to the Soma offices of the Justice and Development Party.

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A protester is detained in front of the General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration headquarters in Istanbul on May 14.

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Riot police use a water cannon to disperse protesters in Istanbul.

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Protesters clash with riot police in Ankara on May 14.

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An Explosion And Fire In The Western Turkey Coal Mine Killed At Least 201 Miners And Trapped Hundreds More. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz Said 787 Workers Had Been In The Mine When The Blast Occurred.

Relatives of miners who are trapped in a coal mine wait near an ambulance on May 14, 2014 in Soma, Turkey.

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The death toll from the Turkish coal mine disaster has risen to 201, with the number expected to rise further. Hundreds more miners are trapped after an explosion and fire at the mine in western Turkey.

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

Of The 787 Miners Underground During The Explosion, Emergency Workers Evacuated 363, Of Whom 80 Were Injured, With Four In Critical Condition

Tragedy: A rescued miner shows his emotions after being rescued

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The explosion Tuesday at Soma Komur Isletmeleri AS's mine in the Aegean province of Manisa could result in more deaths, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said early Wednesday from the blast site, where he was monitoring the rescue effort. "I fear that our troubles may get bigger in the coming hours," Mr. Yildiz said in televised comments, adding that most of the miners had been killed by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Mr. Yildiz rejected criticism that the government wasn't providing adequate updates, saying officials were primarily concerned with rescuing survivors and they were in a race against time.

PHOTO: An Injured Miner Is Carried By Rescuers

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President Abdullah Gul Has Ordered Turkey To Mobilize All Necessary Means For The Effort, Reports WSJ

Medics, family members and friends wait outside a hospital hours after the explosion.

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Emergency workers doused the fire and were pumping fresh air into the mine to provide oxygen for the trapped workers, officials said. The emergency push includes more than 400 rescue workers, Mr. Yildiz said, as Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management presidency, or AFAD, dispatched regional rescue teams and flew in additional support from the country's biggest coal-mining province, Zonguldak on the Black Sea coast. Representatives of Turkey's Red Crescent were also arriving in the Aegean province.

People Cheered And Applauded As Some Trapped Workers Emerged Out Of The Mine, Helped By Rescuers, Their Faces And Hard-Hats Covered In Soot

Medics help a rescued miner after an explosion and fire at a coal mine

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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.

A man kisses his son, rescued from the mine

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One wiped away tears on his jacket, another smiled, waved and flashed a "thumbs up" sign at onlookers. Dozens of ambulances ferried back and forth bodies and the injured extracted from the mine and rescue workers were massed at the entrance of the mine on a hill side.

The Turkish Company That Runs The Mine, Soma Holding, Said In A Statement That The Accident Had Occurred Despite "Measures Taken As Part Of The Highest And Most Sustained Inspection Process"

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The Istanbul-based company has 5,500 employees and is one of the region's biggest coal producers, with 2.5 million tons mined annually, according to its website. Soma Komur said in a statement that the accident had occurred despite all precautions and would be investigated.

Soma Komur's mine was inspected four times in the past two years, officials most recently checking workplace safety and health in mid-March, the Work and Social Security Ministry said. The mine passed the inspections.

Turkey has long had a poor mining safety record, with accidents and deaths occurring frequently. The country’s worst mine disaster to date was a gas explosion that killed 270 workers in the province of Zonguldak in 1992. Politicians have often referred to these accidents as inevitable sacrifices that go with a difficult job.

In 2010, after 28 miners died at a mine near Zonguldak on the Black Sea coast, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked controversy by declaring that such deaths were part of the "fate" of mining communities.

“The people of the region are quite used to events like these,” he said in a speech outside the mine. “This profession has this in its destiny. The workers get into the profession knowing that these kinds of incidents may occur.” His comments prompted protests in the town. Regardless of his response to the latest unfolding tragedy, it will almost inevitably become an issue in Turkey’s highly divided political scene.

Tuesday's Blast And The Ensuing Fire Triggered The Worst Mining Catastrophe In Turkey Since 1992, When A Pit-Gas Explosion Killed 263 In The Country's Deadliest Coal Mine Accident

A miner use his lighter as miners wait at the gate of a mine after an explosion in Manisa

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More than 3,000 miners have died in Turkey's coal mines, according to official statistics going back to 1941. Last year, 95 workers were killed in mining accidents, up from 78 in 2012, according to miners union Dev-Maden Sen. Just under a dozen people were killed this year through April, the union said.

It is too soon to determine whether the blast was caused by negligence, Mr. Yildiz said. The Work and Social Security Ministry said it has appointed three inspectors to investigate the blast.

Following a series of accidents and deaths last year in the same Soma region where Tuesday's accident occurred, Ozgur Ozel, a lawmaker who represents the region with the main opposition Republican People's Party, in October submitted a proposal to investigate the incidents and identify those responsible. The measure was defeated by the governing Justice and Development Party in the Ankara parliament on April 29.

GALLERY: Turkey Coal Mine Explosion Rescue Effort

People cry after their relatives died in an explosion in Manisa

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An injured miner came out carried by rescuers after an explosion in Manisa

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A woman cries as she waits for a news

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A miner with his father after an explosion

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Miners wait at the gate of a mine after an explosion in Manisa

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An injured miner came out carried by rescuers

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Miners carry a rescued miner after an explosion and fire at a coal mine.

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