At least 166 people were killed and hundreds more trapped underground after an explosion and fire in a coal mine in western Turkey, the government said Wednesday, warning that rescue efforts faced a race against time.
The latest toll, expected to rise further, came as rescue operations continued overnight following Tuesday’s disaster when a total of 787 mineworkers were trapped.
Hundreds of people remain trapped underground and 80 of those already rescued were injured, said Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.
“Time isn’t in our favour,” he said, warning that the toll was set to rise.
A security source told AFP that there were pockets in the mine, one of which was open so rescuers were able to reach the workers, but the second was blocked with workers trapped inside.
The explosion was believed to have been triggered by a faulty electrical transformer at around 1230 GMT.
Hundreds of people gathered around the explosion site as rescuers brought out injured workers, who were coughing and struggling to breathe due to the dust.
Sena Isbiler, a mother of one of the miners, stood on top of piles of wood, craning her neck to see who was being led out of the mine.
“I have been waiting for my son since early afternoon,” she told AFP.
“I haven’t heard anything about him yet.”Fire officials were trying to pump clean air into the mine shaft for those who remained trapped some two kilometres (one mile) below the surface and four kilometres from the entrance.
Late in the evening injured people were still emerging from the collapsed mine — some walking, others being carried by rescue workers while being given oxygen.
Nearby, security officers tried to keep ambulance routes clear to ensure aid could reach the victims. The mining company Soma Komur issued a statement calling the mine collapse 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.