A power transformer blew up during shift change at about 12:30 GMT on Tuesday, sparking a choking fire deep inside the coal mine in Soma, around 250 km (155 miles) south of Istanbul.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, owned by SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S. Dozens managed to escape the pit, according to the latest report on BBC; however, about 120 are still missing – trapped 2 km (1.2 miles) below the surface and 4 km from the mine entrance.
SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S. claims 450 miners have been rescued. Those already autopsied died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Efforts to rescue any survivors were complicated by the fire.
The Turkish Government claims that the mine underwent all regular inspections in the last three years, two of them conducted this March and inspectors reported no violation of health and safety laws.
PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared three days of national mourning.
“I just want everybody to know that the disaster will be investigated in every aspect and will continue to be investigated and we are not going to allow any negligence, or leave any stone unturned,” he told journalists in Soma.
According to the article on Yahoo Finance, Nurettin Akcul, a mining trade union leader, told HaberTurk television that Turkey was likely facing its worst mining accident ever. A disastrous mining accident happened in the 1990s and took 260 lives. This one, sources say, has the potential to top it.
SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S. claims that an investigation has been launched.
“Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones,” the company said in a statement.
Meanwhile protests rage in the town and shocked relatives gathered at the mine wait for news of loved ones.