Turkey declares three days of mourning, as rescue efforts try to reach mine shafts that trapped workers.
MANISA - Death toll has risen to 245 in an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey, energy minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday evening.
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 stated that hopes of rescuing any more trapped coal miners were "fading."
Minister Yildiz announced that autopsies had been carried out on all the 245 bodies and the work on identifying the bodies were underway. Earlier in the day, he had said 124 bodies had been identified.
27 workers out of the 80 injured have been released from the hospital, he said.
He stressed that the main focus of the salvage efforts was to reach the mine shafts that trapped workers, but the ongoing fire and gas emission stood as two factors hampering the rescue operations.
"We are worried that the death toll may rise," he earlier said, adding that the oxygen continued to be pumped into the coal mine, where a fire continued to burn.
"The emmission of carbonmonoxide gas continues. So far, there is no gallery that the rescue teams haven't reached except from those where the gas is so thick," he told the press while standing together with Turkey's Minister of Family and Social Policies, Aysenur Islam.
He also reminded that the judicial process had already begun into the incident as the prosecutor’s office in Soma launched an investigation on the mine accident as of Tuesday 12:10 p.m. GMT, including a probe over possible unregistered workers at the site.
Yıldız also rebuffed the claims that there was a 15-year-old among the dead miners, saying "We have looked into hundreds and thousands of names but couldn't find such a person."
"A total of 160 dead bodies have been handed down to their families," he added.
Meanwhile, a total of 110 graves were dug side-by side in Soma District Cemetry for those who lost their lives in the mine fire.
Until now, bodies of 11 miners who were killed in the tragic fire have been buried in nearby Balikesir province.
Besides, seven other victims of the coal mine disaster have been sent off in Manisa and western Kutahya district.
An exact cause of the blast has yet to be officially announced but an explosion and fire followed an electrical fault. Yildiz ruled out the possibility of a firedamp or methane gas explosion, saying the deaths were due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency