CHARLESTON, W.Va. – At least 284 coal miners are dead in what is being called the worst industrial accident in Turkey’s history.
As of Friday morning, 18 miners were still considered missing at the mine — located in Soma in western Turkey — following the Tuesday explosion that sent carbon monoxide into the mine’s six miles of tunnels.
Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America, said the disaster has been on the minds of miners everywhere this week. “I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a special place in folks in West Virginia’s hearts for miners no matter where they are,” he said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“In times of tragedy, we don’t have union miners and non-union miners and bosses and classified workers, we just have miners and the main concerns on everyone’s heart and mind is — how do we rescue the miners, how do we help with the grieving families?”
Once rescue and recovery efforts are completed, Roberts said, there will be time to determine exactly what happened at the Soma mine site. Initial reports indicated an explosion in a power transformer sparked the blaze that then spread deadly smoke and fumes throughout the coal mine.
More than 780 miners were underground at the time of the blast. About 363 miners made it out of the mine, but many were injured.
Records indicated there had long been safety issues at the Soma mine. A 2010 report from the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers showed poor ventilation at the Soma Holding site along with a lack of emergency escapes, the absence of systems to track methane buildup and faulty wall supports.
Turkish laws do not mandate the same safety requirements as those in U.S. laws. Additional safety regulations have been mandated since the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 coal miners in Raleigh County.
“This is like ten times larger, with respect to the number of victims, than what we saw at Upper Big Branch,” said Roberts of the Turkey mine disaster. “We all start thinking about these things and we feel for these families, the grief that they must be going through over there has got to be horrendous.”
Soma is a town in Turkey’s Manisa province which is about 150 miles south of Istanbul.