Death toll hits 201 in coal mine blast in western Turkey

Turkey's Energy Minister: 201 miners have lost their lives and 80 injured so far in the coal mine fire in Turkey's western Manisa province

Turkey's Energy Minister: 201 miners have lost their lives and 80 injured so far in the coal mine fire in Turkey's western Manisa province

MANISA - A coal mine blast in the west of Turkey has killed 201 miners and trapped hundreds underground, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has said, in what might become the biggest mining disaster in Turkish history.

An explosion and fire in the district of Soma in Manisa province followed an electrical fault on Tuesday afternoon.

Yildiz said 363 miners out of 787 who work at the privately-owned mine have been accounted for, including those who died and the 80 people rescued with injuries - four of them in critical condition.

The explosion took place during a shift changeover, Yildiz said, heightening concerns that the death toll may rise.

Dozens of miners have been pulled from the mine as a huge rescue operation is under way, AA correspondent on the scene reports.

An exact cause of the blast has yet to be officially announced. Yildiz said the deaths were due to carbon monoxide poisoning, as he ruled out any possibility of firedamp or methane gas explosion.

President Abdullah Gul has ordered the Manisa Governor’s Office to use all means available to state officials to rescue the miners.

Prime Minister Erdogan, who has canceled a trip to Albania to pay a visit to the province, has offered condolences to the families of those who died.

Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has also canceled all his engagements to visit the area on Wednesday.

A huge crowd of relatives of the miners continue to wait outside the mine for good news on the rescue efforts.

- 'Toughest duty'

The workers are thought to be 3.5 kilometers away from the entrance to the mine. Minister Yildiz said the fire broke out 150 meters underground.

Yildiz assured transparency over the whole incident and said the priority was to reach the trapped miners.

"Time is working against us. We are facing a great adversity," he said.

The minister said efforts continue to clean up the carbon monoxide gas inside the mine, indicating that it might cause more deaths in the meantime.

"Unfortunately, I'm carrying out one of the toughest duties for an energy minister," Yildiz said. "And I'm saying this with concern that our distress might exacerbate in the coming hours."

Yildiz's announcement raises fears this might become the biggest mining disaster in Turkish history, with hundreds of workers still stranded below the soil.

The greatest mining tragedy in Turkey occurred two decades ago in 1992, when a firedamp explosion killed 263 people. The second and third highest death tolls were in 1983 and 1990, respectively, leaving 103 and 68 dead in methane gas explosions.

More than 3,000 people have died and over 100,000 injured in mining accidents since 1941 in Turkey, government statistics agency TurkStat's figures show.

Mines and stone quarries are the most dangerous places for Turkish workers. According to data, more than 10 percent of work-related accidents in 2013 happened in the mining sector.

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