Death toll rises to 41 in coal mine explosion in Turkey

AMASRA, Turkey (AP) — The funeral of miners killed in a coal mine explosion in northern Turkey began on Saturday as authorities raised the death toll to at least 41 people.

Desperate parents had waited all night in the cold outside the state-owned Turkish Hard Coal Enterprise (TTK) mine in the town of Amasra, in the coastal province of Bartin, hoping for news. There were 110 miners working several hundred meters underground at the time of the explosion on Friday evening.

Their expectation turned into devastation on Saturday midday. Women wept at the funeral of miner Selcuk Ayvaz, whose coffin was wrapped in the red and white Turkish flag. Another miner, Aziz Kose, 28, held his newborn just days ago. They mostly came from working-class families and went underground in the coal mines to earn a living.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived at the scene and said the body of a missing miner had finally been found, confirming that 41 had died. Erdogan was surrounded by officials, miners and rescuers, as he pledged to end mining disasters, while saying he believed in “fate”.

“We don’t want to see any loopholes or unnecessary risks,” Erdogan said, adding that an investigation would reveal whether anyone was responsible for the blast. He then joined in funeral prayers for Rahman Ozcelik, 22, in a village where Turkish media said three other minors were also in mourning.

Eleven were injured and hospitalized, five of them in serious condition, while 58 others managed to get out of the mine on their own or were rescued unharmed.

Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said rescue efforts were over. Earlier, he said a fire was burning in an area where more than a dozen miners had been trapped.

Preliminary assessments indicated the explosion was likely caused by firedamp, which refers to flammable gases found in coal mines, Donmez said overnight. Three prosecutors were investigating the explosion.

A day laborer said he saw the news and rushed to the site to help with the rescue.

“We saw a terrible scene, it cannot be described, it is very sad,” said Celal Kara, 40. “They’re all my friends… they all had dreams,” said Kara, who has been underage for 14 years. told The Associated Press after emerging from the mine, his face covered in soot.

Ambulances were on standby at the site. Rescue teams have been dispatched to the area, including from neighboring provinces, Turkey’s disaster management agency AFAD said. Black smoke rose from the entrance to the mine, which is surrounded by forests.

A TTK mining technician told NTV television that his rescue and work safety team arrived at the site on Friday evening. Ismail Cetin said they descended into the mine and walked about 2½ kilometers (1½ miles) with their equipment and stretchers. They recovered nine bodies, which he called “my martyrs”.

Countries around the world have offered their condolences to Turkey. The Greek Prime Minister has offered rescue aid even though relations between the two neighbors have recently been particularly strained.

Separately, Turkish police said in a statement that legal action would be taken against 12 people who allegedly shared provocative content about the mine explosion to incite hatred on social media.

Turkey’s worst mining disaster was in 2014, when 301 miners died after a fire broke out at a coal mine in the western town of Soma. Five months later, 18 miners were killed in the central province of Karaman after flooding at a coal mine.

The leader of DISK, a left-wing union, said in a statement that he was “sad and angry” that the deaths were preventable and the union’s safety suggestions were being ignored. Even though more inspections were mandated after the Soma tragedy, DISK leader Arzu Cerkezoglu claimed some precautions were ignored for profitability, calling Friday’s blast a “massacre”.


Zeynep Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.

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