Turkish Coal Mine Disaster: Death Toll At 201, More Than 200 Still Trapped

A disaster in a Turkish coal mine has killed at least 201 miners and injured 80, while at least 200 more remained trapped as rescuers desperately try to save the men believed to be stuck 1,500 feet underground and more than two miles from the mine’s entrance.

But Tuesday’s catastrophe is not even the worst coal mine disaster in Turkish history, at least not yet. The worst came in 1992, when a gas explosion in a mine in the northwest Kozlu region killed 263. More than 100 miners have been killed in mine accidents since 2003, prior to Wednesday’s coal mine disaster, according to the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkish miner’s union leader Nurettin Akcul believes that in the end, Wednesdays’s Soma disaster may exceed the tragedy of 1992.

While the cause of the disaster remained under investigation, the company that owns the mine, Soma Komur Isletmeleri AS, said that an explosion at an electrical transformer started a raging fire inside the coal mine.

Most of the fatalities so far have come as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The efforts of nearly 400 rescuers have been hampered by deadly gas remaining inside the coal mine.

Rescue efforts were “reaching a critical stage,” early Wednesday, said Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, who said that there were 787 people inside the coal mine when the disaster struck, but 363 have been rescued.

The mining company said that it maintained the “highest safety measures and constant controls” inside the mine, which churns out 250,000 tons of coal every month.

“Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones,” the company said in a statement.

The mine is located about 150 miles south of Turkey’s busy capital of Istanbul.

Ozgur Ozel, a member of Turkey’s parliament who represents the area where the mine is located, said that the lawmaking body just last month saw a debate of mine safety conditions. But a proposal for an investigation into shoddy conditions in Turkish coal mines was shot down.

“As Manisa’s members of parliament, we’re sick of going to miners’ funerals,” Ozel said.

While workers pump fresh air into the mine, the clock continues to tick for the remaining trapped victims of the Turkish coal mine disaster.