At least 22 people have died after an apparent methane blast cratered on Turkey’s Black Sea coast, while rescuers searched for dozens of coal miners still trapped hundreds of meters underground.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 28 people who either managed to crawl out on their own or were rescued by rescuers sustained various injuries in one of Turkey’s deadliest industrial accidents in years.
“We are facing a really unfortunate situation,” Soylu told reporters after traveling quickly to the small coal-mining town of Amasra. “In all, 110 of our brothers were working [underground]. Some got out on their own, and some were saved.”
He also confirmed initial reports that approximately 50 workers were still trapped in two separate areas between 300 and 350 meters underground.
Television footage showed anxious crowds gathering around a destroyed white building near the entrance to the crater, looking for news of their friends and loved ones.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to fly to the scene on Saturday.
Most of the initial information about those trapped inside came from workers who were able to climb relatively unharmed. The mayor of Amasra, Rikai Shakir, said many of those who survived suffered “serious injuries”.
The explosion occurred moments before sunset and the darkness hampered rescue efforts. The Turkish Miners’ Union, Maden Iş, attributed the explosion to a build-up of methane. But other officials said it was too early to draw final conclusions about the cause of the accident.
Rescuers sent reinforcements from nearby villages to help search for signs of life. Television footage showed paramedics providing oxygen to miners who were discharged and then rushed to the nearest hospital.
The local governor said a team of more than 70 rescuers managed to reach a point in the crater about 250 meters deep.
It was not immediately clear whether rescuers would be able to get close to the trapped workers or what was blocking their passage.
Turkey’s disaster management service said the initial spark that caused the explosion apparently came from a faulty transformer. It later withdrew the report and said methane had ignited for “unknown causes”.
The local prosecutor’s office said it was treating the incident as an accident and launching a formal investigation.
Turkey suffered its most serious coal mining disaster when 301 miners died in an explosion in the western Turkish town of Soma in 2014.
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