Hopes dim as 18 Turkish miners remain under 11,000 tons of water
Rescue operations have continued overnight, but officials express little hope of finding the trapped miners alive. AA PhotoHopes were fading on Oct. 29 even as the water level started to decrease in a Central Anatolian Turkish coal mine, where 18 miners remain trapped underground after a flood the day before.
The incident occurred around noon at a coal mine near the Pamuklu village in the Central Anatolian province of Karaman's Ermenek district on Oct. 28. Rescue teams and ambulances were dispatched to the area soon after the incident occurred when water that had accumulated underground flooded a gallery, Karaman Gov. Murat Koca told Anadolu Agency.
“Over 40 workers were in the mine at the time of the incident, when there was a problem in one gallery. The other workers left the mine but 20 miners were left working in the flooded gallery,” Koca said.
An official from the mine later updated the number of trapped miners to 18. He added that those who remained may have drowned.
“We are pumping the water to rescue them. There is 50 meters of water, 350 meters underground. The masks can resist for two hours. There are two places where they can escape. But they may have drowned, because the water flooded [the gallery] suddenly,” mine official Şahin Uyar told private broadcaster NTV.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who visited the site of the accident on Oct. 29, said an investigation had been launched and the site would be inspected as soon as the waters are pumped.
“If there is any negligence, those [responsible] will be brought to account,” Davutoğlu told reporters.
He also revealed that the water level had risen to 812 meters after the accident and dropped only 10 meters since rescue works began. “On the one hand we are racing against time, but on the other hand the water is causing difficulties,” he said.
Davutoğlu said as many as 30 institutions were collaborating in the effort and 420 people, including rescue workers and divers, had been mobilized.
He vowed that the cause of the accident would be analyzed to the “utmost detail.” “We can see that the technology infrastructure is lacking in many of our mines. It is imperative to pass through a swift modernization process. We will do everything we can on this issue,” Davutoğlu said.
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, Labor Minister Faruk Çelik and Transport Minister Lütfi Elvan who arrived in Ermenek overnight to observe the rescue operations at the mine.
"Only one pump is working to discharge the water, but it is not enough. A second pump has just been assembled," Yıldız told reporters in front of the mine after his arrival in the evening hours of Oct. 28. "The water level in the flooded mine is continuing to rise and it increases a meter every two hours," he added.
Yıldız released another statement at 3 a.m. on Oct. 29, noting that the water level in the mine had started to decrease almost 15 hours after the incident. "Approximately, 11,000 cubic meters of water flooded the mine," he said, as trapped miners remained below the level of the water.
Çelik said eight errors were determined during June inspections at the mine. "None of them required a shut-down," he noted, stressing that the source of the water that flooded the mine had not yet been discovered. "The owner of the business is responsible here," he stated.
"This is the third flood at the mine," a miner who survived told Anadolu Agency, blaming the company. "It wouldn't happen if necessary precautions were taken."
Government cancels Republic Day celebrations over 'sorrow'
Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay announced late Oct. 28 that the Republic Day celebrations scheduled for Oct. 29 had been canceled because of the accident.
In his Republic Day message, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu voiced the country's sorrow. "I hope our workers in the coal mine will return to their families safe and sound by using all means of our state and our nation," he said, labelling the incident as "a workplace accident."
CHP chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, criticized the government over the incident. "You insist on negligence and we insist that death is not in the nature [of mining]. You still didn't take your lesson," he said in a tweet late Oct. 28.
Turkey was hit by its worst ever mining accident in May this year in the western city of Soma, where 301 workers died after a fire broke out inside the mine’s galleries.
Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then invited popular wrath by calling the deaths of miners to be part of the "nature of the job" while justifying mining accidents in Turkey by citing similar examples from 19th-century Britain.