Turkish Mine Explosion Kills at Least 238

More than 100 still unaccounted for; protests erupt nearby

May 14, 2014
Outside Magazine

Rescue workers carry the body of a miner from the Soma mine early Wednesday. Many Soma residents still await news of people they know who may have been trapped in the mine.    Emrah Gurel/AP Images

Grief and anger followed a mining explosion in Soma, Turkey, that is "heading towards … being the deadliest ever in Turkey," according to Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. Nearly 24 hours after the disaster, protests against working conditions in the mines have broken out in Soma and throughout the country.

A fire shut down power and ventilation shafts Tuesday afternoon with 787 workers still in the mine. Although 363 miners have been rescued, so far 238 are confirmed dead. The remaining people are still unaccounted for, and even the exact number is unknown because the fire broke out in the middle of a shift change. Yildiz said that for these miners, "our hopes are diminishing."

The initial cause of the fire remains uncertain, though Mehmet Torun, of the Chamber of Mining Engineers, told Reuters that a disused coal seam heated up and expelled carbon monoxide throughout the mine. Most of the deaths have been from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to officials. Although the shafts in the mine are now being ventilated, Torun notes that carbon monoxide kills in up to five minutes. "Unless we have a major miracle, we shouldn't expect anyone to emerge alive at this point," he said.

Many of the dead have been brought to freezer trucks and a cold storage warehouse as nearby hospitals are now overflowing. Family members remain near the mine or at hospitals, waiting for news. "This isn't a huge city," Soma resident Hasan Dogan told Reuters. "Everyone has neighbors, relatives, or friends injured, dead, or still trapped."

Coal mining is a major industry for Turkey, which has a history of dangerous working conditions for miners. So far, this disaster is second to the country's worst mining accident in 1992, when a gas explosion killed 263 workers. At the Soma mine and in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, protests have broken out regarding these unsafe working conditions. Police fired tear gas and water cannons at student protesters at the Middle Eastern Technical University, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. Several unions and organizations also plan to protest in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Turkey has declared a national mourning period of three days, and Turkey's disaster agency has rejected offers of aid from several countries, including the United States, saying that no help is needed.