More than 40 dead after gas explosion at coal mine in Turkey
Rescuers ended their search Saturday at the Amasra coal mine in northwestern Turkey after finding the lifeless body of the last missing miner bearing the toll of Friday night’s firedamp strike that left 41 dead and 28 injured.
“Our priority was to find the miners in the tunnel. We finally reached the last one. He also died, bringing the death toll to 41,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who arrived at the site on Saturday afternoon.
Visibly dismayed, with tears in his eyes, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez had hinted near the imminent end of the bailouts, which were “ongoing for a person whose fate (remained) unknown”.
Nearly a hundred miners were near nightfall at the time of the blast, which appeared to be caused by a gas blast, around 6:15 p.m. local time on Friday – slowing the search.
According to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, “58 minors were saved alone or with help”.
The first survivors to be brought to the surface and unharmed were eager to take part in the rescue, while miners from across the region came to help.
Adem Usluoglu, an employee at another mine, immediately introduced himself: “Some were burned alive and seriously injured by the force of the explosion,” he told AFP news agency. “I have a terribly heavy heart.”
All night miners’ relatives, racked with agony and many in tears, waited outside the mine for news.
A woman in shock had to be evacuated, others prayed and leaned on the cordons blocking off the scene, while survivors supported one another.
“There are no survival spaces, no places of refuge in the mine,” Iliyas Borekci, deputy director of a nearby mine, told AFP, which sent three rescue teams as reinforcements. “The only chance of survival is to get out immediately.”
Addressing the miners who had safely emerged from the mine, the head of state announced a full investigation: “How this explosion happened and who is responsible for it, all this will be clarified by an administrative and judicial investigation that has already begun,” he said.
He had already promised on Twitter that “no negligence will remain without consequences”.
The head of state also blamed fate: “The Amasra mine is one of the most advanced facilities (…) But we are people who believe in fate and something like this will always happen, we have to know,” he explained in front of the tearful gathering before visiting the wounded treated on the spot.
Mr Erdogan, in power since 2003 and a candidate to succeed him next June, also pledged that the state would support the victims and “protect the families”.
He visited families to attend funerals, particularly in the village of Makaraci, where four of the victims were from.
A woman yelled at him in front of the cameras: “My brother told me there was a gas (methane) leak. This will blow us up, he said.
The leader of the opposition (CHP) Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu also attended some ceremonies in the villages.
“Our initial observations indicate that some of the (miners) died due to the high pressure and heat caused by the blast,” the energy secretary said overnight.
– Frequent accidents –
The accident and its heavy toll sparked many solidarity reactions, including that of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Twitter, who said he was “sad” despite the extreme tensions between the two countries.
Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent their condolences, the second in Turkish, via Twitter, as did European Council President Charles Michel.
Accidents at work are common in Turkey, where strong economic development over the past decade has often been at the expense of safety regulations, particularly in construction and mining.
The last, at Soma Mine (West) in 2014, killed 301 miners after an explosion followed by a fire that caused a shaft to collapse.
Five mine officials convicted of negligence had been sentenced to up to 22 years and six months in prison by Turkish courts.
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