At least 238 people (updated at 11:40 a.m. ET) were killed by Tuesday’s explosion in a coal mine in Turkey, according to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hundreds more are still missing. Efforts to rescue any workers who survived far below the Earth’s surface are being complicated by a fire in the mine.
The area around the entrance to the mine in the city of Soma has become a scene of wide-ranging emotions. In some cases, friends and loved ones have welcomed survivors; in others, they’ve watched as stretchers are carried past, bearing the dead.
“Frantic relatives have gathered at the mine, waiting for news of loved ones,” the BBC reported Wednesday. “As ambulances took away an increasing number of bodies, some of the bereaved wailed uncontrollably and were carried away by their families.”
The AP says:
“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 wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police restrained him from climbing into an ambulance with the body.”
Erdogan has declared three days of national mourning for those lost in the disaster. And while fresh air is being pumped into the mine to try to keep survivors alive, officials say they aren’t optimistic.
“Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing,” Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday.
Yildiz has said that around 780 people were working in the mine at the time of the explosion; officials say the mine was in the middle of a shift change when disaster struck.
Efforts to reach them have also been complicated by the mine’s length, which is reportedly more than 2 miles. A rescuer who tried to reach survivors tells the AP that he only made it around 500 feet before gases forced him to give up.
And because an electrical problem helped trigger the disaster, power has been cut to the mine’s system of service cages, the BBC says.
The incident in Soma, about 155 miles south of Istanbul, could become the deadliest mine accident in Turkey’s history.
“Accidents have plagued the country’s growing mining industries,” the Two-Way reported Tuesday. Between 1991 and 2008, 2,554 Turkish miners lost their lives, according to a supplement published in the British Mining Journal last year; one accident in 1992 caused more than 260 deaths.”