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Mine explosion kills 19 workers

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-11

An explosion has caused a coal mine to collapse in northwestern Turkey, killing 19 workers. The blast came after the workers set off dynamite late Thursday.

AFP - An explosion ripped through a coal mine in northwestern Turkey, causing a cave-in and killing 19 workers, officials said Friday.

"I have to give you the bad news. Rescue teams have reached the accident area. Unfortunately, all the workers are dead," Labour Minister Omer Dincer said in televised remarks.

The workers were trapped at a depth of 220 to 250 metres (726 to 825 feet) late Thursday in the mine near the town of Mustafakemalpasa in the province of Bursa when the explosion caused a gallery to collapse.

Bursa governor Sahabetting Harput said the cave-in came after the workers set off some dynamite, but Dincer said the cause of the explosion was not yet clear and experts would be called in to investigate.

"It was not a very powerful explosion, but the entire gallery, the fortifications totally collapsed," he said.

Additional rescue teams were sent in from five nearby provinces, but the rescuers could not immediately enter the mine due to high concentrations of methane. They had to wait for hours as air was pumped into the mine to dissolve the gas.

Dincer said the bodies of only two workers had been removed so far and that conditions in the collapsed gallery hampered rescue efforts.

"The rescuers are running into difficulty because the accident area is very narrow and has suffered major damage. It is not a place where a lot of people can work together at once," the minister said.

"We have decided that the rescue teams will work with great care and proceed only after building the necessary fortifications. I believe they will complete their work in the evening," he added.

Television footage showed grieving relatives waiting outside the mine behind a line of soldiers called in to provide security.

A miner who took part in the rescue efforts, Hamza Baskurt, told the NTV news channel that he had spotted seven bodies when he went down with a friend to look for survivors.

"We saw them in a shaft to the right of the cave-in. They were lying down one or two meters apart.... You can see the effects of the explosion on their hands, faces and clothes. They were burned," he said.

"Conditions are dangerous down there. It will be very difficult to remove the bodies," Baskurt added.

Dincer explained that the mine had been subject to frequent inspections, the last of them taking place in May.

Inspectors found a number of flaws and gave the management until December to correct them, he said, but gave no details as to what the flaws in question were.

"Experts will decide whether the management did the required work, but our general view is that the mine was run by an experienced team that had been in business since 1983 and which abided by general work rules, the minister said.

Explosions and cave-ins are not uncommon in Turkey, particularly in privately run mines where respect for safety regulations is often minimal.

Date created : 2009-12-11


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