A nuts and bolts mining town dominated by smoke stacks
Searchers who made their way into the mine were unable to establish communication with trapped miners
A miner cries as rescue workers carry the dead body of a miner from the mine in Soma, western Turkey, yesterday. Photograph: Emrah Gurel/AP
Some came out of the mine defiant, others in tears. One young miner looked totally bewildered. Then on Tuesday night the motionless bodies of Soma’s dead miners began to appear on stretchers, one after another.
Yesterday morning, family and friends of the hundreds of trapped Turkish miners were reaching over a metal barrier to unfurl the burial shrouds covering the dead, hoping against hope they would not recognise the limp faces peering back.
Two hundred and seventy-four people were confirmed dead yesterday in one of Turkey’s worst-ever mining accidents. About 120 were still trapped hundreds of metres below the surface. Another 140 injured miners had been taken to a local hospital, their names written on two sheets of paper and posted on the window of an aid organisation’s mobile office for their families and friends.
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Locals at the scene of the disaster said all the trapped and dead miners were from the area.
Workers at Turkey’s disaster and emergency state agency AFAD said searchers had made their way into the mine yesterday evening but were unable to establish communication with the trapped miners.
Soma is a nuts and bolts mining town dominated by three smoke stacks to the its north. The outskirts are dotted with coal storage warehouses. The mine is a 20-minute drive west of the town.
As body after body appeared from a galvanised lean-to, it quickly became apparent that what was unfolding would amount to one of the worst mining disasters in the country’s history. In March 1992, 263 miners died following a methane gas explosion at a mine on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The unfolding Soma disaster is likely to eclipse it.
One woman attempted to forcefully enter an ambulance to check the body inside but she was easily overpowered by first aiders, but perhaps more so, by grief.
Rescue workers attempted to blast air into the mine but there was little to be done.
From early morning, hundreds of rescue workers stood around the blocked entrance but a lack of space, and the fires down below, meant only a few could go underground.
At a nearby hospital, hundreds gathered hoping to hear news of their loved ones. Many were unable to hide their grief.
At the town’s cemetery, two dozen or so men began the job of digging out graves using shovels and machinery. The names of two dead miners, some of the first to be buried, were written on pieces of paper at the head of two freshly-dug graves. Timber planks were stacked high, soon to be used as make-shift coffins.
The mixture of soot, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide filling the chambers of the mine and fast-reducing oxygen reserves had put the miners in instant peril. Reports indicated they were equipped with oxygen masks and tanks, but the 60-plus hours the miners had spent underground meant reserves were long gone.
Even above ground, at the mine’s entrance, smoke and soot covered ambulances and media vans.
Turkey’s mining industry is a national necessity: the almost complete lack of natural gas or oil means it is forced to import expensive fuels from abroad. Mining, therefore, counts as an important source of government and private revenue.
Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Soma yesterday afternoon to offer his support to the rescue effort. He stayed for about an hour before moving on to the headquarters of the rescue effort in the town centre.
“The disaster will be investigated in every aspect and will continue to be investigated,” he said in a solemn address in which he referred to past mining accidents in Europe and the United States.
But here in western Turkey, home to dozens of holiday resorts and Turks of a liberal world view, the Islamist government can call on little support.