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Coal Mine Explosion in Turkey Kills at Least 41

Istanbul, Oct 16 (BPNS)

— The death toll from an explosion inside a coal mine in northern Turkey rose to at least 41 workers on Saturday, with 11 others injured, making it the worst mining disaster in the country in eight years.

The blast on Friday evening inside a state-owned mine in the town of Amasra, near the Black Sea, appeared to have been caused by the combustion of gases inside the mine, officials said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the site on Saturday with other officials, miners and rescue workers, and he announced that the body of one missing miner had been found, increasing the death toll to 41.

He said he would work to end such disasters. “We don’t want to see deficiencies or unnecessary risks,” he said.

Earlier, Mr. Erdogan had promised an investigation into the “tragic incident,” saying that the judicial authorities would seek accountability for “even the slightest negligence.”

Images from the scene captured by local journalists showed crowds of anguished residents, rescue workers and miners in hard hats gathered near the mouth of the mine, some tending to injured people who had been brought out.

Relatives of more than a dozen miners who had been trapped after the explosion spent the night near the site, wrapped in blankets and waiting for news of their loved ones.

But bad news arrived early Saturday, when 14 more bodies were removed from the mine, the interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, told reporters gathered near the site.

Eleven miners who had been rescued from the mine after the blast had been hospitalized nearby or in Istanbul, Mr. Soylu said, and one of them had been discharged.

The energy minister, Fatih Donmez, who was also at the site, told reporters that 110 miners were in the mine at the time of the blast and that a fire was still burning inside, though with diminishing intensity. The blast took place at a depth of about 350 meters, Mr. Donmez said, in a spot that was 2.5 kilometers, or about 1.5 miles, from the mine’s entrance, a distance that takes about 45 minutes to walk.

Fighting to hold back tears, Mr. Donmez said he had visited the mine three weeks ago to meet with its workers. Images from that visit show him addressing a large crowd of miners in yellow hard hats.

“Godwilling, the Lord will not make us go through the same pain again,” he said.

It was not immediately clear whether the explosion was caused by inadequate safety precautions inside the mine, but opposition politicians were already raising that possibility.

Deniz Yavuzyilmaz, an opposition lawmaker from a nearby province that also has an active mining industry, posted on Twitter an excerpt from a 2019 government report about the Amasra mine.

It said that the gas content of the coal seam deep in the mine was high, raising the risk of a sudden release of gas that could cause an explosion.

The head of Turkey’s largest opposition party was also scheduled to visit the area to attend the miners’ funerals, which began on Saturday.

Ergun Atalay, the head of Turk Is, a confederation of labor unions, had accompanied Mr. Donmez, the energy minister, during his visit to the mine to lay out the miners’ concerns.

After each new disaster, he said, “I hope it will be the last one, but it isn’t.”

In Turkey’s worst mine disaster, 301 people died in a fire inside a coal mine in the town of Soma, in the country’s west, in 2014. Then, the damage was so great that it took four days to remove all the bodies from the mine. The catastrophe prompted accusations from miners and their families that the operator had skimped on safety measures to make the mine profitable.