SOMA: Turkey yesterday declared rescue operations over following this week’s devastating coal mine blast after retrieving the bodies of two last trapped miners, bringing the final death toll to 301.
“The rescue operation was carried out to completion. There are no miners left underground. All of them have been identified after DNA tests,” Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters in the western town of Soma, site of the country’s worst industrial disaster.
“Rescuers scoured all corners of the mine for a last time to make sure everyone had been located, but they have not come across any more bodies,” he said.
The rescue workers have battled unexpected fires since Tuesday’s initial fire and explosion, Yildiz said, including one that broke out earlier yesterday, hampering efforts to save the last two trapped miners.
A total of 485 miners were rescued alive, he added, pledging support for the stricken families.
A preliminary expert report on the accident, obtained by the Milliyet newspaper, pointed to several safety violations in the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal.
Mine operator Soma Komur on Friday vehemently denied any negligence.
“We have all worked very hard. I have not seen such an incident in 20 years,” said general director Akin Celik.
Yildiz said the mine would not resume production until “all issues have been brought to light”.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the focus of mounting anger for his response, starting with an apparent attempt to play down the incident by comparing it to mining disasters from 19th-century Britain.
At least 36 people, including eight lawyers, were briefly arrested and held in a stadium in Soma yesterday after they attempted to make a statement.
Police beat and injured some of the lawyers who had come to advise families of the miners who lost their lives, the Contemporary Lawyers Association said.
Security checkpoints were set up on the main roads leading to Soma a day after police forcefully broke up a peaceful demonstration in the town.
Nationwide trauma has turned to rage, fuelled by claims of negligence against mine operators and what many see as a heartless response from the government.