An explosion and a fire Tuesday at a coal mine in western Turkey has killed more than 200 workers and trapped hundreds of others underground, the country's disaster agency said.
The accident in the town of Soma, 155 miles south of Istanbul, is one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. Officials believe it began when power distribution machinery caught fire.
Rescuers were struggling early Wednesday to reach more than 200 miners still trapped inside the mine. More than 360 workers had been evacuated so far.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 80 mine workers were injured, at least four of them seriously.
The rescue effort was “reaching a critical stage” with the death toll likely to rise, Yildiz said.
Television video showed people cheering and applauding as trapped workers were helped out of the mine. One wiped away a tear on his jacket; another smiled and waved at onlookers.
The accident occurred during a shift change, complicating efforts to calculate the number of missing workers.
“Evacuation efforts are underway. I hope that we are able to rescue them,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in televised comments.
Rescuers were pumping air into the mine as rescue teams rushed to the area, said Yildiz, who went to Soma to oversee the rescue operation.
“It is a serious accident,” he told reporters. “Our priority is to reach our miner brothers.”
The mine's tunnels are miles long, said Cengiz Ergun, the mayor of Manisa province, where the town is located.
“The situation inside is troubling,” Ergun told NTV television.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the mine and the hospital in Soma seeking news of loved ones.
SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the mine, confirmed that a number of its workers had been killed but would not give a specific figure. It said the accident occurred despite the “highest safety measures and constant controls” and added that an investigation was being launched.
“Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones,” the company said in a statement.
Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions.
Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.