Mass funerals as Turkey mourns mine workers

Thousands of family members and co-workers have gathered outside the hospital in Soma, where much of the population either works in or has relatives employed by the mining industry, seeking information on their loved ones

Mass funerals as Turkey mourns mine workers

World Bulletin/News Desk

Loudspeakers broadcast the names of the dead and excavators dug mass graves in this close-knit Turkish mining town on Thursday, while protesters gathered in major cities as grief turned to anger following the country's deadliest industrial disaster.

Rescuers were still trying to reach parts of the coal mine in Soma, 480 km (300 miles) southwest of Istanbul, almost 48 hours after fire knocked out power and shut down the ventilation shafts and elevators, trapping hundreds underground.

At least 282 people have been confirmed dead, mostly from carbon monoxide poisoning, and hopes are fading of pulling out any more alive of the 100 or so still thought to be inside.

Anger has swept a country that has boasted a decade of rapid economic growth under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government but which still suffers from one of the world's worst workplace safety standards.

Access to the mine entrance was blocked by paramilitary police roadblocks several kilometres away ahead of a visit by President Abdullah Gul on Thursday, as officers searched cars.

Erdogan, who announced three days of national mourning from Tuesday, expressed regret for the disaster but said such accidents were not uncommon, and turned defensive when asked if sufficient precautions had been in place.

Several thousand people staged a sit-down protest in front of police water cannon in Istanbul, police fired water cannon to break up a demonstration in Izmir, the nearest large city to Soma, and there were reports of protests in the southern cities of Mersin and Antalya.

Around a thousand people from various trade unions gathered in Ankara to march on the labour ministry, some wearing miners' helmets and waving banners showing the image of Che Guevara.

Thousands of family members and co-workers have gathered outside the hospital in Soma, where much of the population either works in or has relatives employed by the mining industry, seeking information on their loved ones.

Loudspeakers on street corners used by the local government to announce news, a hangover of the days when Internet connections and mobile phones were less common, broadcast the names of the dead and gave funeral details.

The rescue operation was hampered late on Wednesday as the fire inside the mine continued, making it extremely hazardous for crews to retrieve bodies.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the ventilation systems which pump fresh air into the mine had been relocated and the teams were getting ready to go back inside.

The fire broke out during a shift change, leading to uncertainty over the exact number of miners trapped. Yildiz initially said 787 workers had been in the mine, though Erdogan said on Wednesday around 120 were still thought to be trapped.

Turkey's safety record in coal mining has been poor for decades, with its previous worst accident in 1992, when a gas blast killed 263 workers in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.

The mine operator, Soma Komur Isletmeleri, said nearly 450 miners had been rescued and that the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide. It said the cause was not yet clear.

Initial reports suggested an electrical fault caused the blaze but Mehmet Torun, a board member and former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers who was at the scene, said a disused coal seam had heated up, expelling carbon monoxide through the mine's tunnels and galleries.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Mayıs 2014, 17:06
YORUM EKLE