Death toll rises to 238 in coal mine blast in western Turkey

Turkish PM says 238 miners confirmed dead in coal mine disaster in western Turkey

Turkish PM says 238 miners confirmed dead in coal mine disaster in western Turkey

MANISA - The death toll from Tuesday's coal mine fire in western Turkey has risen to 238, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

Turkey has declared three days of national mourning -- during which flags will fly at half-mast and parliament will be closed -- for the victims of what could be "the worst incident in the country’s mining history."

Officials said earlier Wednesday that hopes of rescuing any more trapped coal miners are "fading."

"We are worried the death toll may rise," said Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz. He said oxygen continues to be pumped into the coal mine in Soma, where a fire continues to burn. 

Yildiz said autopsies have been carried on 72 bodies and funerals will be held for the victims. 124 bodies have been identified so far.

The initial results of autopsies on 17 bodies, carried out at a forensic medical facility in western city Izmir, reveal that the miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The prosecutor’s office in Soma has launched an investigation on the accident, including a probe over possible unregistered workers at the site.

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

The energy minister said he could not verify how many people are trapped in the mine until all workers are evacuated.

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

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

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

The workers are thought to be 3.5 kilometers away from the entrance to the mine. 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.

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.

The deadliest mining incident in history took place in Benxi in Liaoning province, China, on April 26, 1942, when 1,549 people died.

The second deadliest mining incident in the world and the worst in Europe, occurred in Courrieres, France on March 10, 1906, when 1,099 workers were killed.

The causes of mining accidents vary from gas compression, leaks of poisonous gases, natural gas explosions, fires as well as the collapse of the mines.

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