Official: More Than 150 Dead In Turkish Mine Explosion

By Alan Greenblatt NPR

Update at 7:10 p.m. ET. Death toll climbs:

A coal mine explosion in Turkey has killed more than 150 people and trapped hundreds more in the country’s west, a top official says.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 780 people were working inside the mine at the time of the accident in Soma, about 155 miles southwest of Istanbul. He said 151 were killed.

The Associated Press quotes Yildiz as saying 76 mineworkers were hurt and one was in serious condition.

The figures from Yildiz came after other officials had given wildly differing accounts of the number of dead, so it’s unclear how definitive the energy minister’s numbers might be.

Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that evacuation efforts were underway.

“I hope that we are able to rescue them,” he said in televised comments.

Soma is in the western province of Manisa. Workers were trapped more than a mile underground.

Rescuers were pumping fresh air into the mine, but the rescue effort was being hampered by the fact that the mine was made up of tunnels that were miles long, Erdogan told NTV television, a Turkish broadcaster.

“The mine’s elevators aren’t functioning as a result of the fire, the officials said,” Bloomberg News reported.

Accidents have plagued the country’s growing mining industries. Between 1991 and 2008, 2,554 Turkish miners lost their lives, according to a supplement published in the British Mining Journal last year; one accident in 1992 caused more than 260 deaths.

During a six-month period in 2009 and 2010, about 60 workers were killed in three separate explosions.

Last November, about 300 mineworkers in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak barricaded themselves inside a coal mine to protest poor working conditions and a lack of safety measures.

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