Blast kills 17 Turkish coal miners

A methane gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in western Turkey killing 17 miners, the energy minister said on Friday.

    Rescue workers carry the body of a miner in Balikesir

    Rescue workers evacuated 40 miners, including the five injured, and recovered all bodies after Thursday evening's blast caused a shaft to collapse at the mine in the village of Odakoy in western Balikesir province, about 475km (295 miles) south of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city.

    "There were 57 people in the mine, 35 of them survived unharmed, five others were injured," said the minister, Hilmi Guler. "Unfortunately, we've lost 17 people."

    Salvage workers recovered the bodies of all 17 people, private NTV television said.

    "Of course, our grief is enormous, but we are also happy for the survivors," said Guler, who was at the site.

    A few miners who were participating in rescue efforts were  taken to hospital with methane gas poisoning.

    Erhan Ortakoylu, the owner of the private coal mine, said the miners were trapped after an explosion 150 meters, or nearly 500 feet, below the surface, the Anatolia news agency said.

    A military helicopter transferred workers from nearby mines to help the rescue effort, Anatolia said.

    Accidents are not uncommon in Turkish mines due to safety violations, outdated equipment and high concentrations of methane gas.

    The energy minister, responding to a question over frequent mine accidents, denied any laxity in government inspections and said an investigation was under way into the accident.

    "No, unfortunately these are possible accidents in mining," Guler said. "They measured the methane gas level just a few minutes before the blast, but the gas level apparently suddenly increased."

    Last June, six miners died of methane gas poisoning when a shaft collapsed in a coal mine near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

    A methane gas explosion in April 2005 killed 18 people at a coal mine in the town of Gediz in western Kutahya province.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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