Tags: Turkey | mining | accident

Anger Erupts in Turkey as Mine Blast Claims 274 Lives

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 04:29 PM

Anger erupted across Turkey on Wednesday as hopes faded for scores of workers trapped in a collapsed mine and the death toll rose to 274, in what has become the country's worst-ever mining disaster.

Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Ankara and Istanbul, accusing the government and mining industry of negligence, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected claims of government culpability.

"We have witnessed one of the biggest work accidents in our recent history," Erdogan said after visiting the mine in the western town of Soma in Manisa province, where grieving relatives of the victims were calling for his resignation.

Erdogan said figures remained uncertain but mining operators thought 120 workers were still trapped following Tuesday's explosion, caused by an electrical fault. Reports from rescue workers on the scene suggest the figure could be far higher.

Erdogan said enquiries would be launched into the causes of the disaster, but he insisted that "such accidents happen".

He also appeared to downplay the seriousness of the accident, comparing it to other mining disasters elsewhere, saying "204 people died in the UK in 1862 and 361 people in 1864".

"There is something in literature called work accidents," he said.

Hundreds of distraught family and friends gathered near the building where Erdogan gave a press conference were outraged, with some kicking his vehicle.

Public anger also erupted on the streets over the accident that has claimed at least 274 lives, most by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Police used tear gas and water canon to disperse between 3,000 and 4,000 protesters in Ankara's downtown Kizilay Square, as well as thousands of demonstrators in Istanbul.

Earlier in the day, they also used tear gas against around 800 students marching on the energy ministry, and 50 protesters who threw eggs at the mining research directorate in Istanbul.

Three days of national mourning have been declared.

The disaster risks adding to the political pressure on Erdogan, who faced mass protests last summer and a huge corruption scandal involving his family and key allies in recent months.

"If the claims of negligence at the mine prove true, it will have a political price. Such a development would render corruption allegations targeting Erdogan's government more convincing,"said Ilter Turan, a professor at Istanbul's Bilgi University.

 

 

At the scene of the accident, fires and toxic gases were complicating increasingly desperate efforts by 400 rescue workers.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 274 workers had been confirmed dead but raging fires were hampering efforts by rescue workers still at the scene.

"Time is not working in our favour," he told reporters, adding that 196 bodies have been delivered to families.

Earlier reports said 787 workers were underground when the blast occurred. By late Wednesday, "close to 450" workers had been rescued, according to the mine operator, Soma Komur Inc, but accounts from rescue workers cast doubt over the numbers.

"There are pockets of air, but it's only a glimmer of hope because so far... it's mostly the dead that we are bringing out," said Erdem Bakin, a doctor with the Search and Rescue organization.

"We don't go more than 100 metres from the bottom of the mine. It's impossible to go right to the bottom because of the risk of asphyxiation from the gas."

Bakin said they found the transformer that exploded, triggering the collapse. At least 70 miners working between the transformer and the entrance of the mine survived.

"But those who were beyond were taken by the fire and they are all dead," he said.

Harun Unzar, a miner at the site, said: "We are a family and today that family is devastated. We have had very little news and when it does come it's very bad."

 

 

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

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

 

© AFP 2017

 
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2014-29-14
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 04:29 PM
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