News

Turkey mourns

Hundreds killed, more missing in what could be country's worst mining disaster

WHAT: Mine explosion

WHEN: Tuesday

WHERE: Soma, western Turkey

TOLL: At least 205 killed; hundreds more trapped

Number of workers underground when the blast occurred

As bodies were brought out on stretchers, rescue workers pulled blankets back from the faces of the dead to give jostling crowds of anxious family members a chance to identify victims.

One elderly man wearing a prayer cap cried after he recognised one of the victims. The police restrained him from climbing into an ambulance with the body.

Workers from nearby mines were brought in to join the rescue operation.

One 30-year-old man, who declined to be named, said he rushed to the scene to try to help find his brother who was still missing early yesterday.

He said he was able to make it about 150m inside the mine before gasses forced him to retreat.

"There is no hope," he cried.

As Turkey declared three days of national mourning for the victims, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the toll could exceed the 263 workers killed in the country's 1992 mining disaster, it's worst so far.

"We are worried that human loss could increase," he told reporters.

Reports said there were 787 workers underground when the blast occurred.

Tuesday's explosion was believed to have been triggered by a faulty electrical transformer.

Outside the hospital in the Turkish town of Soma, relatives waited through the night behind a double police cordon as the death toll of a blast at the coal pit soared above 200 and bereaved the entire town.

Hundreds were still trapped and a few rescued alive, but in the commotion of the massive rescue effort, families struggled to get answers.

"I'm waiting," said Ms Zulfer Yildirim, sinking back into her headscarf as the latest ambulance run yielded no fresh information and the flash of the beacon faded in the night.

Around her the crowd of mothers, sisters, wives, children and colleagues stood completely silent, transfixed in a mixture of dread and expectation.

Suddenly, two hospital employees walked over to the families with a loudspeaker and began calling out names of miners treated in their department.

Two women broke rank from the crowd, tears welling up.

"We only deal with the least serious cases here," one doctor told AFP, declining to provide any figures. "Most of the patients are treated for asphyxia and respiratory problems."

A few kilometres away, an improvised morgue was set up for the dead.

The crowd has said they would not leave without news on the fate of the missing miners.


 BY THE NUMBERS

787

Number of workers underground when the blast occurred