The thoughts of everyone involved in the mining industry around the world are with the families and friends of the many victims of a coal mine inferno near the town of Soma in western Turkey. As of late Friday the death toll had reached 298 with another few miners still believed to be missing underground while 485 escaped or were rescued.
Despite fading hopes, “fresh air, oxygen is being pumped into the mine. This is the most important thing for workers down there,” Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters, according to Reuters. “We are facing carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide poisoning ... We have to get our friends out of there swiftly.”
However late on Friday he stated that hope was diminishing as difficulties increased in extracting the workers as the explosion cut all power to the mine’s elevators.
Mine owner Soma Komur issued a statement calling the disaster a ‘tragic accident’. “Unfortunately, some of our workers have lost their lives in this tragic accident,” the statement said. “The accident happened despite maximum safety measures and inspections, but we have been able to take prompt action,” it added.
The disaster has seen protests erupt at the site. Around 1500 protesters swarmed the town of Soma on Friday, throwing stones at police and yelling anti-government slogans, according to SBS. Police dispersed the protesters by using tear gas and water cannons. In Istanbul, police forcefully broke up a crowd of about 150 people who lit candles and lined up mining helmets on the ground to honour the victims of the disaster.
The explosion is believed to have been ignited by a faulty electrical transformer, in a similar fashion to New Zealand’s Pike River coal mine explosion. The resultant fire created excessive levels of carbon monoxide in the underground mine, suffocating many of the workers.
Angry survivors and protesters have described the Soma disaster as murder, not an accident, because of what they call flawed safety conditions at that mine and others in the country.
Erdal Bicak, 24, said he had just ended his shift on Tuesday and was making his way to the surface when mine managers ordered him back down because of a problem. “The company is guilty,” he said, adding that managers had machines that measure methane gas levels. “The new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn't tell us in time.”
The government has asked for a parliamentary inquiry into the disaster to find out what happened and why. “There’s no negligence with respect to this incident,” insisted Huseyin Celik, a deputy leader of the ruling party. He said the mine “was inspected vigorously 11 times since 2009.”
“Let’s learn from this pain and rectify our mistakes,” he said. “(But) this is not the time to look for a scapegoat.”
Erdal Bicak, however, said the last inspection at the Soma mine was six months before the disaster. He said the inspectors only visit the top 100 metres of the mine and the managers knew that. So, the managers would clean up the top part of the mine and the inspectors never saw what was below, he said.
The miner said the pathways are really narrow and steep down below, and the ceilings are so low miners can’t stand up, he said, adding that’s why it was so hard to get out and that was what the inspectors weren’t seeing.