x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Hundreds of Turkish miners feared trapped after deadly blast

Explosion causes collapse that killed at least five miners and left hundreds of others trapped up to 2 kilometres underground.

People gather at a mine in the Soma district in the western Turkish province of Manisa where an explosion left hundred of miners trapped on May 13, 2014. Ihlas News Agency / AFP
People gather at a mine in the Soma district in the western Turkish province of Manisa where an explosion left hundred of miners trapped on May 13, 2014. Ihlas News Agency / AFP

ISTANBUL // At least five miners were killed and as many as 400 others remain trapped underground after an explosion in a coal mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa on Tuesday, officials said.

“We have been informed that five people died and 30 people were rescued,” said Cengiz Ergun, the mayor of Manisa, as rescue workers tried desperately to reach the trapped miners.

An explosion at the mine in Soma district was believed to have been triggered by a faulty electrical transformer.

Fire officials were trying to pump clean air into the mine shaft for those who remain trapped about two kilometres below the surface and four kilometres from the entrance.

Fire officials said thick smoke was making progress difficult.

An ambulance helicopter was dispatched to the scene, while the general army staff sent a rescue team of 15 to 20 people, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The miners are all thought to have gas masks, but it was not clear how long they would last.

Local media said there were 580 people trapped in the mine at the time of the explosion but many had escaped. Large crowds of tearful and worried family members gathered near the site.

“I don’t want to give any numbers. Our priority is to reach our workers underground,” the Turkish energy minister, Taner Yildiz, said before leaving for Manisa.

“Four separate rescue teams are currently working in the mine. The fire is creating a problem but oxygen is being pumped into the mine shafts that weren’t affected.”

Muzaffer Yurttas, a Manisa legislator, said there were between 300 and 400 people still trapped. Other estimates put the number between 200 and 300.

Vedat Didari, a professor of mining, said the biggest risk was the loss of oxygen.

“If the ceiling fans are not working, the workers could die within an hour,” said Mr Didari, from the Bulent Ecevit University in the city of Zonguldak.

Explosions and cave-ins are common in Turkey, particularly in private mines where safety regulations are often flouted.

The worst mining accident happened in 1992 when 263 workers were killed in a gas explosion in a mine in Zonguldak.

Soma is one of the key centres for lignite coal mining in Turkey, a district with a population of around 100,000 where the mines and a lignite-fired thermal power plant are the main economic activity.

* Agence France-Presse