Soma mine disaster
|This article is part of the CoalSwarm coverage of Turkey and coal.|
On 13 May 2014, an explosion at a coal mine in Soma, Manisa, Turkey, caused an underground mine fire, which burned until 15 May. In total, 301 people were killed in what was the worst mine disaster in Turkey's history. The mine, operated by coal producer Soma Kömür İşletmeleri A.Ş., suffered an explosion, the cause of which is still under investigation. The fire occurred at the mine's shift change, and 787 workers were underground at the time of the explosion. After the final bodies were pulled from the mine on May 17, 2014, four days after the fire, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yıldız confirmed the number of dead was 301. Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) announced the names of 301 workers who died in the mine disaster and 486 people who survived but some politicians claimed that the number of dead is more than 340.
Miners protested against dangerous mining conditions in late 2013 and the demand by the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, to investigate the mine's safety was rejected in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey with votes from the ruling Justice and Development Party only weeks before the disaster.
Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which has poor mine-safety conditions. According to a report issued in 2010 by the Turkish Economy Policies Research Foundation (TEPAV), in 2008, deaths per 1 million tons of coal mined were 7.22 in Turkey (the highest figure in the world), 5 times the rate in China (1.27) and 361 times the rate in the US (0.02). Official statistics record that more than 3,000 coal miners died in mining accidents from 1941 to April 2014. 78 miners were killed in accidents in 2012, and 95 died in 2013. Prior to the Soma disaster, the deadliest accident in recent Turkish mining history was an explosion which killed 263 people in 1992.
The mine, formerly a state-owned company, had been privatized in 2005. In 2012 Alp Gürkan, CEO of Soma Holding, indicated that since privatization the cost of producing coal had decreased from about $140 to $24 per ton.
In November 2013 hundreds of coal miners protested against working conditions by barricading themselves in a mine in Zonguldak.
Explosion and fire
The fire was started by an explosion that occurred 2km below the surface; the explosion caused the mine's elevator to stop working. The explosion killed 301 workers, injured another 80, and trapped nearly 600 workers in the mine, causing most of the victims to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. There were 787 miners underground at the time of the explosion; however, because the explosion took place close to shift change, the exact number of employees underground at the time was initially uncertain. Hürriyet first declared a young-looking mine worker among the dead to be 15 years old and working illegally, though this claim has been dismissed by the person's family.
Rescue crews arrived at the mine soon after the explosion and provided fresh air to the mine workings in an effort to keep those workers still trapped underground alive. Four mine rescue teams were deployed underground to look for trapped miners; however thick smoke initially hindered progress in the operations to rescue more workers from the mine.
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