As the fire burned through the mine early on Saturday, rescuers hoped to reach around 15 workers who were believed to be alive but trapped some 300 meters underground, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. As the day progressed, officials announced a rising death toll, dashing hopes of a rescue. Finally, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a visit to the region on Saturday evening, declared that the last minor reported missing had died.
“It is very important to understand how this explosion happened,” Erdogan said, adding that investigations into the cause were ongoing.
At least 110 people were working inside the mine when the explosion occurred. Eleven workers were being treated for injuries in Istanbul and Bartin province, Soylu said. Fifty-eight workers were rescued or escaped from the mine, he added.
Photographs showed crowds of people gathered at the entrance to the mine, including tearful relatives and rescue workers, a line of waiting ambulances and an injured miner covered in what appeared to be black soot.
Hundreds dead or trapped in one of Turkey’s worst mining disasters
Turkey suffered its worst mining accident in 2014, when 301 people were killed after an explosion at a coal mine in the town of Soma, about 150 miles south of Istanbul, sparked a fire that burned For days. Protests after the accident targeted the owners of the mine as well as Erdogan, after downplaying the incident, suggesting such accidents were commonplace.
Government officials seemed eager to change their tune after the latest accident. Erdogan, who canceled a trip to southeastern Turkey and traveled to Bartin on Saturday, said on Twitter that rescue work began “immediately” after the crash and that “families and children of our lost minor friends are in our caring hands”.
“We will not allow any grievance,” he said. “Our judicial authorities will thoroughly investigate this tragic incident and even the slightest negligence will not go unaddressed.” Speaking at the scene of the accident, he added: “We are the people who believe in the plan of fate.”
Erdogan also spoke to an unidentified woman who said her brother was among the dead miners, according to video of the conversation released by local media.
“My brother said there was a gas leak here 10-15 days ago, they are going to blow this place up,” the tearful woman told Erdogan. “How was he neglected? He said they were going to blow us up here.
“He felt it was going to happen,” the woman added.
Fahim reported from Doha, Qatar. Beril Eski contributed reporting.