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5 Dead, Up To 300 Trapped After Turkish Coal Mine Explosion

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 2:22pm
Suzan Fraser, Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- An explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least five people Tuesday and trapped hundreds of workers underground, Turkish officials said. At least 25 people were reported alive after being rescued.

A power distribution unit at a mine in the town of Soma exploded Tuesday afternoon, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul.

Atci said between 200 to 300 workers were trapped inside the mine.

Cengiz Ergun, the mayor for Manisa province, said the death toll stood at five and that at least 25 people were evacuated alive.

Private NTV television said the accident occurred some 2 kilometers (1 1/4 miles) deep inside the mine.

"It is a serious accident," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters before leaving to oversee the Soma rescue operation. "Our priority is to reach our miner brothers ... any figure we give could well be wrong."

Yildiz said rescuers were pumping fresh air into the mine and rescue teams from neighboring regions were rushing to the area. Journalists were being kept away from the site but a witness told NTV that ambulances were seen leaving the area.

Families gathered outside the hospital in Soma seeking news of their loves ones, NTV reported.

SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the mine, confirmed that a number of its workers were killed but did not say how many. It said the accident occurred despite "highest safety measures and constant controls" and an investigation was being 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.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions.

Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

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