ISTANBUL—An explosion in a coal mine near Turkey’s Black Sea coast killed at least 41 people while dozens of others were rescued, some after being trapped for hours underground, Turkish authorities said on Saturday.
The disaster poses a new challenge for the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who traveled to the site of the disaster to monitor the rescue effort in the town of Amasra, about 180 miles northeast of Istanbul.
The explosion on Friday evening was caused by firedamp, or flammable gases in the mine, said Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Fatih Donmez.
The death toll in the disaster rose to 41 on Saturday, Mr. Erdogan said during a visit to the mine. By Saturday afternoon, all of the remaining workers who had been trapped had been extracted by search-and-rescue teams, the Turkish president said, ending an operation that wore on overnight and into Saturday.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said that 110 workers had been in the mine at the time of the explosion. At least 11 of the rescued miners were treated at hospitals, according to Fahrettin Altun, an aide to Mr. Erdogan and the head of the Turkish government’s communications directorate.
“We see that many fatal disasters are taking place in our mines. We cannot accept that,” said Mr. Erdogan in a speech to workers assembled at the mine on Saturday.
“We believe in fate’s plan. There shall not be a past, present or future for this. These things will always happen, we should also know that,” he said.
Mr. Erdogan also said prosecutors had been assigned to investigate the cause of the explosion, which took place in a state-owned mine.
The blast echoes a 2014 disaster in which 301 people died following an explosion in another mine in Turkey. The incident catalyzed protests and a trial in which five mining executives were sentenced to jail terms.
The 2014 disaster, the worst in Turkey’s history, raised tensions over Turkish authorities’ regulation of mines. Families of the miners killed in the Soma Holding Eynez coal mine said that the explosion was preceded by years of ineffective inspections, a lack of equipment and an overall failure to implement safety standards.
Mr. Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time of the 2014 explosion, said mining accidents were part of the nature of the job. Protesters booed the Turkish leader when he visited the scene of the accident in Soma in western Turkey.
Turkish opposition figures and union officials raised accusations on Saturday that this week’s mining disaster was caused by a failure to uphold safety standards at the Amasra mine.
Deniz Yavuzyilmaz, an opposition lawmaker from a nearby province, tweeted what appeared to be an excerpt of a 2019 report from Turkey’s Court of Accounts, a government auditing agency, that described a heightened risk of accidents at the mine.
A copy of what appeared to be the same report, provided by a union representative and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, says that the mine’s “production depth” reached 300 meters in 2019. “This deepening increased the risk of severe accidents like sudden gas eruption or firedamp explosion,” the report says.
Turkish Hard Coal Enterprises, the state-owned company that operates the mine, pushed back on the accusations. “In all our establishments in our institution, production is carried out in strict accordance with the mining occupational health and safety rules,” the company said.
The company also said that a senior official from the Court of Accounts had visited the mine, but only as a courtesy call, not for an audit.
The Turkish government’s handling of disasters has posed a challenge for Mr. Erdogan in recent years. Wildfires that swept Turkey’s Mediterranean coast in 2021 resulted in public criticism of the government’s preparedness and response. At least nine people died in the fires, which burned nearly 200 square miles of territory and threatened power plants.
Write to Jared Malsin at [email protected]
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