Amasra, Turkey (AFP) – Funerals for miners killed in a coal mine explosion in northern Turkey began on Saturday as officials raised the death toll to at least 41.
Desperate relatives waited all night in the cold outside Turkey’s state-owned Hard Coal Enterprise (TTK) mine in the town of Amasra, in the Black Sea coastal province of Barten, hoping for news. There were 110 miners working several hundred meters underground at the time of the explosion on Friday evening.
Their waiting turned into ruins by Saturday noon. Women wept at the funeral of the miner Selcuk Ayvaz, whose coffin was draped in the red and white Turkish flag. Another miner, Aziz Kos, 28, had a newborn just days ago. Most of them came from working-class families and went underground to the coal mines to earn a living.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived at the scene and said the body of one of the missing miners had finally been accessed, and he confirmed the death of 41 people. Surrounded by officials, miners and rescue workers, Erdogan vowed to end mining disasters, while saying he believed in “destiny”.
“We don’t want to see deficiencies or unnecessary risks,” Erdogan said, adding that the investigation would reveal whether anyone was responsible for the blast. Then he joined the funeral prayer for Rahman Ozcelik, 22, in a village where Turkish media said three other miners were in a state of grief.
Eleven were injured and taken to hospital, five of them are in serious condition, while 58 others were able to get out of the mine on their own or were rescued unharmed.
Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said rescue efforts had been completed. He had said earlier that a fire broke out in an area where more than a dozen miners were trapped.
Overnight, Donmes said initial assessments indicated the explosion was likely caused by ignition, referring to the flammable gases found in coal mines. Three prosecutors are investigating the blast.
A miner working the day shift said he saw the news and rushed to the site to help with the rescue.
“We saw a terrifying sight, it is indescribable, it is very sad,” said Celal Kara, 40. told the Associated Press after coming out of the mine with his face covered in soot.
Ambulances were on alert at the site. Turkey’s disaster management agency, reported, said rescue teams had been sent to the area, including from neighboring provinces. Dark smoke rose from the entrance to the forested mine.
A mining technician from TTK told NTV that a rescue and occupational safety team arrived at the site on Friday night. Ismail Cetin said they went down to the mine and walked 2.5 kilometers (1½ miles) with their equipment and stretchers. They recovered nine bodies, which he described as “martyrs of mines.”
Countries around the world have offered their condolences to Turkey. Greek Prime Minister offered bailout assistance although relations between the two neighbors have been particularly strained lately.
Separately, Turkish police said in a statement that they will take legal action against 12 people who allegedly shared provocative content about the mine explosion to incite hatred on social media.
Turkey’s worst mine disaster was in 2014, when 301 miners died after a fire broke out inside a coal mine in the western town of Soma. Five months later, 18 miners were killed in the central province of Kerman after a coal mine flood.
The head of the left-wing trade union DISK said in a statement that they were “sad and angry” that the deaths could have been prevented and the union’s safety suggestions have been overlooked. Although more inspections were carried out after the Soma tragedy, DISK leader Arzu Serkisoglu claimed that some precautions were ignored for profitability, describing Friday’s explosion as a “massacre”.
Zeynep Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.