ISTANBUL: The death toll in a mine explosion in western Turkey jumped to 157, a provincial mayor told CNN Turk news channel on Tuesday, citing health officials at the entrance of the mine.
Cengiz Ergun, mayor of Manisa, said nearly 600 workers were trapped at the time of the explosion. Ergun’s figures are yet to be confirmed by Turkey’s disaster response unit (AFAD) which had put the death toll at 17 earlier.
The blast in the power unit of the mine in Soma, around 120km (75 miles) northeast of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, triggered an electricity outage, making the elevators unusable and leaving hundreds of workers stranded underground.
Television footage showed thousands of fellow workers and relatives gathering outside the local hospital in Soma, a coal mining community in Turkey’s western province of Manisa.
Earlier, government officials feared the death toll might be on the rise. “Unfortunately, we could see a grimmer picture. Looks like it will be a very tough night. The death toll may rise but the rescue teams are working hard,” one government official said.
It was not immediately clear if the fire was isolated.
“Fresh air, oxygen is being pumped into the mine. This was the most important thing for our workers down there,” energy minister Taner Yildiz told reporters on his way to the airport to depart to Manisa.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan cancelled a day trip to Albania originally scheduled for Wednesday and instead was going to head to the disaster site, sources in his office said.
Turkey’s worst mining accident took place in 1992, when a gas explosion killed 263 workers in Black Sea province of Zonguldak. The country has poor health and safety record in mining, particularly coal.
In May 2010, a gas explosion killed 30 miners again in Zonguldak province.