A transformer explosion in a coal mine caused a fire that has killed 151 people in the western part of Turkey, according to Taner Yildiz, energy minister of the country. As the search for the trapped workers continues, various officials report differing counts of those trapped underground and those rescued. CNN Turk is reporting that the mayor of Manisa, Cengiz Ugun, has reported 157 deaths. The Natural Disaster and Emergency Coordination Directorate in Manisa reported that as of late Tuesday, at least 200 miners were trapped underground, while 80 injured workers and eight miners with no injuries were rescued.
As crowds formed in the early morning hours of Wednesday to watch the rescue efforts, one miner was brought to safety to cheers of joy. His rescue was aired live on CNN Turk. Ergun meanwhile states that although 30 miners had made it to safety, there may be 400 still underground. His numbers conflict with reports by the national disaster and emergency agency in Turkey, who state that 21 have been rescued and that 11 of those suffered injuries requiring treatment. The difficulty in pinpointing accurate numbers results partly from the fact that the explosion took place during a shift change.
The location of the explosion and fire is approximately 1 kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) below ground. According to Yildiz, the mine, located in Soma, contained 787 miners when the explosion occurred. Soma is located about 120 km (75 miles) away from Izmir. Muzaffer Yurttas, a Turkish Parliament member from Manisa, has reported that the fatalities and the injuries have been consistent with suffocation and burns. Yurttas said that 76 injured workers were being treated at hospitals. Yildiz stated that the majority of the deaths were due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The explosion occurred in a transformer underground and was followed by an outage of power, which caused the elevators to be unusable, which trapped hundreds of workers underground , according to Yildiz, who explained that after an explosion such as this occurs underground, it is of utmost importance that clean air be sent underground. In order to do so, officials at the scene transformed an outgoing pipe into a “clean air pipe” so that the miners would have access to fresh air. It is crucial that the air is not introduced into areas where fire exists. Ambulances and helicopters as well as approximately 100 rescue workers were sent to the scene. Sources report that the mine now has two pockets of safe air for the trapped workers, and while one area was open and accessible to rescuers, the other was blocked off, trapping workers inside. It is believed that all miners had access to oxygen masks, but it is not clear for how long they are expected to last. It is also not known whether the mine’s ceiling fans are still operating. If they are not, time could run out quickly for the stranded workers.
In a statement given in Ankara, Turkey, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reassured his country that measures were being taken “to rescue our stranded brothers.” Tuesday’s explosion and fire is the worst mining tragedy to occur in the country for more than 20 years, when an explosion in 1992 killed 263 miners in Zonguldak. The same type of explosion killed 30 workers in Zonguldak in May 2010. Turkey has a reputation for having poor safety and health procedures in their mining industry, especially as related to coal. Soma is one of the central areas in Turkey for lignite coal mining. The district contains 100,000 people, whose main source of income are lignite mines and a power plant that uses lignite to produce energy.
By Jennifer Pfalz