Turkey: Deaths rise to 284, 122 rescued injured. 18 trapped in coal mine explosion/ongoing fire in Soma, Manisa province – Updated 160514 1335z

Update 16 May 2014 1308 UTC :

President Gl visits Soma amid protests

May 15, 2014, Thursday/ 17:15:17/ TODAY’S ZAMAN/ ISTANBUL

President Abdullah Gl speaks to reporters during his visit to Soma mining. (Photo: Today’s Zaman)

President Abdullah Gl traveled to Soma, in western Turkey, on Thursday after the mining town was hit by a disaster that left at least 283 miners dead and was met by angry protests from relatives of the victims.

Gl’s first stop was Akhisar State Hospital, where he visited those who were injured in the incident. Gl wished them a speedy recovery and said he is praying to God that such incidents never take place again. The president was accompanied by Parliament Speaker Cemil iek and Health Minister Mehmet Mezzinoğlu.

There are 10 injured miners in the hospital and they are in good condition.

Gl, who stayed in the hospital for 30 minutes, left the area under tight security measures.

A woman staged an angry protest as the president’s official car was leaving the hospital. The woman, identified as Hlya Akaydın, said: You shameless people, may God damn you. May you burn violently.”

After leaving Akhisar, Gl went to Soma to visit the site of the incident.

Access to the mine entrance was controlled by gendarme roadblocks several kilometers away ahead of the visit by Gl, as gendarmes searched cars.

The president, who cancelled a visit to China after the mine disaster, visited the surroundings of the mine along with iek and was briefed by Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, Health Minister Mezzinoğlu, and Family and Social Policy Minister Ayşenur İslam about the search and rescue efforts and the situation of the injured. The president also spoke with relatives of the miners who were waiting for their loved ones and offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims.

Some had still not received any information about their loved ones and booed the president. One accused the president of hindering the rescue efforts.

Esteemed president, rescue teams cannot enter the mine because of you. We don’t need police here, we need rescue teams. We still cannot get the dead bodies out, he said.

A victim’s mother, whose name was not available, spoke to Gl in person and asked for his help to find her son.

My beloved son lies underground. There is still no news from him. They [rescue teams] stopped working just because the president has come. There are efforts to hide negligence, but there is obvious negligence, the mother told reporters.

Making a statement from the mine area, Gl, who looked upset and had a trembling voice, said Turkey’s loss is very great and there are lessons Turkey needs to take from this disaster.

We need to join hands in order to heal the wounds here and show a big example of solidarity, the president said as he offered his condolences to the victims’ families.

Undoubtedly, such pain should not be experienced again. Just like developed countries minimized such pain [caused by mine disasters], we need to review our regulations and take the necessary measures, he said.

Gl also noted that the State Audit Institution (DDK), tied to the presidency, will provide an outline of measures that need to be taken to prevent similar tragedies in mines.

An administrative and judicial investigation has been launched into the incident, said the president, promising that it will be carried out meticulously.

==================================================

HĂĽrriyet Daily News:

Company admits there was no refuge chamber in Soma mine, but vows to continue operations

Soma Holding head Ali Grkan is seen during a press conference May 16, three days after the deadly disaster. AA Photo

Soma Holding head Ali Grkan is seen during a press conference May 16, three days after the deadly disaster. AA Photo

The operator of the Soma mine has denied any negligence in the worst mining disaster in Turkeys history, while admitting that a refuge chamber that could have saved lives had not yet been constructed. Nevertheless, Soma Holding head Ali Grkan vowed to continue operating the mine after shortcomings are addressed in the wake of the May 13 disaster.

There was no negligence on our side. I have worked in mines for 20 years, and I did not witness such an incident [here on May 13], said Akın elik, the operating manager of the Soma Coal Mining Company, during a press conference May 16.

Asked if the company would continue to operate the mine, Grkan said: “Of course. After all the measures are taken and the missing room [for the refuge chamber] is built, this operation will continue. Legally, we don’t have an obligation to build a refuge chamber. But we would have completed it in three-four months if this accident hadnt happened.”

No refuge chamber, but escape point

The officials have admitted that there was no refuge chamber in the mine, but added that there was an escape point close to ground level, allowing workers to exit without walking the 300 meters to the main entrance.

When the facility was first established, there was one refuge room that could host 500 people at the center of the mine, but it was closed when production ended in that area of the mine.

As the production area was moved to a deeper part of the mine, preparations were underway to build refuge rooms there, according to the executives.

If the accident had happened three or four months later, the construction of refuge rooms would have been finished and the workers would have survived, the company claimed.

Reason remains unknown

Officials have accepted that they do not know the reason of the accident, describing the fire as being technically inexplicable.

The cause of the fire was heated coal, and no flames erupted at a power distribution unit in the mine, they said.

The incident happened in three to five minutes. The gas filled everywhere in five minutes, elik added.

Grkan, also said they had made the necessary investments to ensure the safety of workers. We have spent our income to improve working conditions to avoid possible accidents, Grkan said, while refusing to answer questions from journalists.

I am in severe pain. People who know me would understand, he said, noting that he had health issues.

elik also confirmed that there were 787 workers inside the mine when the disaster occurred. He said that 363 workers managed to escape the mine after the accident, while another 122 were rescued injured and transferred to nearby hospitals.

elik also confirmed a previous statement by Energy Minister Taner elik who said 18 miners remained trapped inside the mine.

Officals have declined to provide a list of the 787 workers, saying they do not have the authority to release it publicly as all data has been delivered to Turkeys disaster agency, AFAD.

No child workers

Another senior company official, Celalletin Gkaşan, has categorically rejected claims that they employed child workers or subcontracted workers.

There are no foreign, minor or subcontracted workers, Gkaşan said, answering to widespread criticism about the companys alleged mismanagement of the mine.

Cemal Yıldız, who perished in the disaster, was originally said to be 15, but his family subsequently revealed that he was 19 at the time of death. According to Yıldız’s Facebook account, however, he started working in the mines in 2011, meaning he had been employed illegally at the age of 16.

Along with the compensation required by law, there is a program to give more support to the families of victims, Grkan said.

While the scale of the project is yet to be determined for the moment, the company will cover the education tuition of the victims children and other costs, he added.

The Soma coal mine, which is the regions biggest facility employing up to 6,500 workers, was privatized at the end of the 1970s.

May/16/2014

Update 14 May 2014 0720 UTC :

Turkey Mine Blast: 201 Dead And Toll May Rise

Hopes are fading for hundreds of miners trapped underground, as relatives wait anxiously at the surface for news.

Workers wait outside a mine in Soma, Turkey, following an underground explosion

Oxygen is being pumped into the mine to help those trapped

At least 201 miners have been killed after an underground explosion and fire in western Turkey.

The countrys energy minister Taner Yildiz�said 787 workers were in the mine at the time of the blast, which is thought to have been caused by an electrical fault.

Hundreds are still trapped in shafts and tunnels up to 2.5 miles (4km) from the nearest exit. He said 80 miners were injured and at least four of them are in a serious condition.

Mr Yildiz�said�rescue effort is now reaching a critical stage, with hopes fading for the those still trapped.

Workers wait outside a mine in Soma, Turkey, following an underground explosion
Many of the miners were coughing and covered in dust as they were rescued

The blast in Soma, some 155 miles (250km) south of Istanbul, is one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history.

It is reported the fire is still burning underground, hampering rescue efforts.

Fresh air is being pumped into the pit to help workers who may be struggling to breathe, amid fears they could suffer carbon monoxide poisoning.

TURKEY-MINE-BLAST
Dozens of miners have been rescued or made their own way out

TV pictures showed rescued miners coughing and spluttering as they were pulled out alive, their faces coated with black dust.

Relatives waited anxiously at the entrance to the mine, cheering and applauding each successful rescue.

But according to journalist Doran Jones fear has already turned to anger among the relatives of many of those lost.

He told Sky News previous accidents have been reported at the mine and the safety record of operator Soma Komur�has been called into question.

TURKEY-MINING-ACCIDENT
Worried relatives rush to the mine complex in the town of Soma

Mr Jones said one miner had told him he felt like a lamb to the slaughter every time he went to work.

Miner Oktay�Berrin told new Agency AFP�workers were not protected underground.

In a statement, the mines owners, Soma Komur, described the explosion as a tragic accident which happened despite maximum safety measures and inspections.

The incident took place in the town of Soma, in the province of Manisa
The explosion happened in Turkeys western Manisa province

According to Turkeys ministry of labour, the pit was last inspected on March 17 and was found to be compliant with safety regulations.

The accident happened when a power distribution unit exploded about 1.2 miles (2km) beneath the surface, according to Nurettin Akcul, head of the Turkish Mineworkers Union.

It is thought it happened during a change of shifts, leading to confusion over the exact number of workers still inside.

The countrys worst mining disaster was in 1992, when a gas explosion killed 270 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

Turkeys Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has postponed a one-day visit to Albania and is heading to the scene. Sky News

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