[Trapped workers are pulled from a mine following an explosion of a power distribution unit underground in Soma, in the western Turkish province of Manisa, May 13. AA Photo]
Hurriyet Daily News: Some 201 coal miners were killed and hundreds were trapped at a mine in the western province of Manisa’s Soma district on May 13 after a fire broke out following an explosion in a power distribution unit, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said.
In a statement released early May 14, Yıldız also expressed concerns that the death toll could rise as over 300 hundred workers could still be trapped inside, according to reports.
Rescue teams continued their efforts to rescue workers throughout the night, but hopes are diminishing for the safety of those who remain in the mine.
“We have lost 201 of our worker brothers. We fear that the number will rise,” Yıldız said in a statement on 5 a.m. local time, 11 hours after the incident, adding that 80 workers were injured. In an earlier statement at midnight, Yıldız said that 787 workers were inside the mine when the fire broke out and the victims died due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
But a high degree of uncertainty still remains regarding the exact number of workers trapped inside the mine. Yıldız said some of the injured were “people from outside the mine,” which, he added, created more concerns. In the initial reports after the accident, it was said that between 200 and 300 workers were in the mine, but subsequent reports suggest there were far more miners present in the facility.
The accident and the massive number of deaths have sparked widespread anger as many denounced the insufficiency of safety measures, accusing the government and mine companies of “negligence.” Protests are planned for around the country during the day and into the evening.
“The mining accident that we have seen at this private facility today is truly a work-related murder of the highest degree. We are currently facing the worst work-related murder in the country’s history,” said the former head of miners’ union Maden-İş, Çetin Uygur.
The head of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), Kani Beko, said there were a large number of subcontracted workers present in the mine. “There are second- and third-tier subcontractors working in this mine. I hope that the death toll will not further climb, but I am not optimistic. There is a massacre that happened following the explosion inside,” Beko said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who reportedly canceled a scheduled trip to Albania on May 14, is expected to visit the coal mine May 14. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has also announced that he will travel to Soma.
Erdoğan said rescue operations were launched as soon as the news of the accident emerged in his first remarks following the mine explosion.
“Hopefully, we will receive clearer and comforting news in the coming hours,” Erdoğan said during an event in Istanbul. President Abdullah Gül, meanwhile, reportedly called Manisa Gov. Abdurrahman Savaş to urge full mobilization for the rescue efforts.
At least one air ambulance and 27 normal ambulances were dispatched to the scene, according to CNNTürk. A cold storage warehouse for locally produced melons has been transformed into a makeshift morgue near the mine.
On April 29, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) reportedly submitted a motion to Parliament to investigate work-related accidents at the mine in Soma, only for the proposal to be rejected with votes from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The CHP, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have dispatched delegations to the site.
Agonizing wait for miners’ families in Soma as rescue operations continue
Fire causes power failure
The mine’s operator, the Soma Coal Mining Company, also confirmed in a statement late May 13 that the accident had caused casualties. It also said that the last inspection carried out only two months ago found nothing contrary to the regulations in the mine facility. The statement did not provide any further detail regarding the exact number of workers trapped in the mine.
The accident occurred two kilometers underneath the surface, provoking a power cut which caused the mine’s elevator to stop working.
A group of 20 workers were rushed to the hospital following the first intervention of rescue teams, District Gov. Mehmet Bahattin Atçı said during a live broadcast on the NTV television station. Atçı also said there was intense smoke in the mine that was hindering the rescue effort.
Hundreds of the reported 787 miners in the mine remain trapped around four kilometers from the exit for hours, Yıldız said. Some 6,500 workers are employed in the privately owned mine, which is also the largest mine in the region.
Turkey is no stranger to mining disasters, with accidents frequently resulting in loss of life. Turkey’s worst mining disaster occurred when a methane explosion killed at least 263 workers in the northwestern province of Zonguldak in 1992. Unions have long criticized the government for failing to supervise mining activities, particularly with regard to subcontracting firms that are accused of employing workers with little training.
The head of Soma Holding’s board of directors, Alp Gürkan, told daily Hürriyet in 2012 that greater privatizations in the mining sector had allowed the company to make more money, but many have accused mining companies of earning better profits at the cost of safety to their workers.
After 30 miners died in Zonguldak on May 17, 2010, then-Labor and Social Security Minister Ömer Dinçer attracted anger by saying those killed had died “beautifully.”
“On the first 19 miners, there were no signs of burns – they died beautifully,” he said on a TV program after the disaster. “The mining workers have been delivered to their families, and the families are at peace.”
Erdoğan also subsequently said that death was the fate of miners.