At least 238 dead in Turkey coal mine explosion

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At least 238 dead in Turkey coal mine explosion
Foto: Soma'da yakınlarını kaybeden vatandaş Başbakan'ın korumaları tarafından dövüldü #BuAyıpSizeYeter http://t.co/THq5FtNtnk
A miner cries as rescue workers carry the dead body of a miner from the mine in Soma, western Turkey, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. An explosion and fire at the coal mine killed at least 232 workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of the accident. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman reacts after she have seen the dead body of a relative miner outside the mine in Soma, western Turkey, early Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Rescuers desperately raced against time to reach more than 200 miners trapped underground Wednesday after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least 200 workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, at the time of the accident and 363 of them had been rescued so far. (AP Photo/Depo Photos)
Family members, react, as they wait outside the mine in Soma, western Turkey, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Rescuers desperately raced against time to reach more than 200 miners trapped underground Wednesday after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least 200 workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, at the time of the accident and 363 of them had been rescued so far. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman reacts after being told her brother died on May 14, 2014 following an explosion and fire in a coal mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa killed at least 201 people and hundreds remain trapped underground. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 14: A miner is evacuated from the fire at a coal mine in the Soma district of Manisa, Turkey on May 14, 2014. An explosion and fire in the western Turkish province of Manisa followed an electrical fault on Tuesday afternoon, on May 13, 2014 killed at least 205 miners and injured many others. The deaths of 205 miners in a fire at a coal mine in western Turkey on Tuesday could be the worst mining disaster in the country's history, Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday. (Photo by Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man kisses his son, rescued of the mine, on May 13, 2014 after an explosion in a coal mine in Manisa. At least 157 miners were killed in collapsed coal mine in the western Turkish city of Manisa. 'At least 200-300 workers were working in the mine when an electric fault caused an explosion,' the mayor of Soma, a district of Manisa, told private NTV television. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Medics help a rescued miner after an explosion and fire at a coal mine killed at least 17 miners and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. The death toll was expected to rise.(AP Photo/Depo Photos)
Family members gather near the mine after an explosion and fire at a coal mine killed at least 17 miners and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. The death toll was expected to rise.(AP Photo/Depo Photos)
Family members cry as they wait outside a hospital hours after an explosion and fire at a coal mine killed at least 17 miners and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. The death toll was expected to rise.(AP Photo)
Medics, ambulances and relatives at the entrance of the mine hours after an explosion and fire at a coal mine killed at least 17 miners and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, in Soma, in western Turkey, late Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. The death toll was expected to rise.(AP Photo/Depo Photos)
Medics help a rescued miner after an explosion and fire at a coal mine killed at least 17 miners and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. The death toll was expected to rise.(AP Photo/Depo Photos)
Family members cry as they wait outside a hospital hours after an explosion and fire at a coal mine killed at least 17 miners and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. The death toll was expected to rise.(AP Photo)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 14: Relatives of the miners wait as search and rescue operations keep going on following the fire in a coal mine in the Soma district of Manisa, Turkey on May 14, 2014. An explosion and fire in the western Turkish province of Manisa followed an electrical fault on Tuesday afternoon, on May 13, 2014 killed at least 205 miners and injured many others. The deaths of 205 miners in a fire at a coal mine in western Turkey on Tuesday could be the worst mining disaster in the country's history, Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday. (Photo by Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
An injured miner came out carried by rescuers, on May 13, 2014 after an explosion in a coal mine in Manisa. At least 157 miners were killed in collapsed coal mine in the western Turkish city of Manisa. 'At least 200-300 workers were working in the mine when an electric fault caused an explosion,' the mayor of Soma, a district of Manisa, told private NTV television. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured miner came out carried by rescuers, on May 13, 2014 after an explosion in a coal mine in Manisa. At least 157 miners were killed in collapsed coal mine in the western Turkish city of Manisa. 'At least 200-300 workers were working in the mine when an electric fault caused an explosion,' the mayor of Soma, a district of Manisa, told private NTV television. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: At least 3 miners died in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. Search and rescue operations keep going on in the mine.
(Photo by Ahmet Bayram/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: At least 3 miners died in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. Search and rescue operations keep going on in the mine.
(Photo by Ahmet Bayram/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: At least 3 miners died in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. A relative of a miner prays as search and rescue operations keep going on in the mine. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: At least 3 miners died in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. Search and rescue operations keep going on in the mine. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Medics place an injured miner into an ambulance after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least one miner Tuesday and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine in the town of Soma in Manisa province but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. (AP Photo/Depo Photos)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: At least 3 miners died in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. Search and rescue operations keep going on in the mine. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Relatives try to get information outside a local hospital after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least one miner Tuesday and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine in the town of Soma in Manisa province but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. (AP Photo/Depo Photos)
Medics place an injured miner into an ambulance after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, in western Turkey, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least one miner Tuesday and left up to 300 workers trapped underground, a Turkish official said. Twenty people were rescued from the mine in the town of Soma in Manisa province but one later died in the hospital, Soma administrator Mehmet Bahattin Atci told reporters. The town is 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. (AP Photo/Depo Photos)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Miners are being rescued as a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Soner Ovumlu - Anadolu Agency)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Families of the miners wait outside the mine, in tears, as search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: A miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Ahmet Bayram/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: A miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Ahmet Bayram/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Families of the miners wait outside the mine as search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: A miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Soner Ovumlu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz makes a press statement on the mine fire in Soma, Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby.
(Photo by Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 13: Search and rescue operations keep going on in a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa where a miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. (Photo by Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 14: Relatives of the miners killed in the coal mine fire in Soma, wait outside a cold storage house where dead bodies of victims were borught for identification in Kiragac district of Manisa, Turkey on May 14, 2014. An explosion and fire in the western Turkish province of Manisa followed an electrical fault on Tuesday afternoon, on May 13, 2014 killed at least 205 miners and injured many others. The deaths of 205 miners in a fire at a coal mine in western Turkey on Tuesday could be the worst mining disaster in the country's history, Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 14: Search and rescue operations keep going on following the fire in a coal mine in the Soma district of Manisa, Turkey on May 14, 2014. An explosion and fire in the western Turkish province of Manisa followed an electrical fault on Tuesday afternoon, on May 13, 2014 killed at least 205 miners and injured many others. The deaths of 205 miners in a fire at a coal mine in western Turkey on Tuesday could be the worst mining disaster in the country's history, Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday. (Photo by Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MANISA, TURKEY - MAY 14: A miner is helped by rescue workers and friends from the coal mine on May 14, 2014 in Soma, Manisa, Turkey. An explosion and fire in the coal mine killed at least 205 miners and trapped hundreds more. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 workers had been in the mine when the blast occurred. Turkey has declared three days of mourning over the catastrophe. (Photo by Ozgu Ozdemir/Getty Images)
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By Desmond Butler and Suzan Fraser

Women wailed uncontrollably, men knelt sobbing and others just stared in disbelief outside a coal mine in western Turkey as rescue workers removed a steady stream of bodies Wednesday from an underground explosion and fire that killed at least 238 workers.

The fate of an estimated 120 miners remained unclear in one of Turkey's worst mining disasters.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan postponed a foreign trip and visited the mine in Soma, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. The deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, officials said.

Erdogan said the tragedy would be investigated to its "smallest detail" and "no negligence will be ignored." He discussed rescue operations with authorities, walked near the entrance of the mine and also comforted two crying women. Earlier, Erdogan declared three days of national mourning, ordering flags to be lowered to half-staff.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma at the time of Tuesday's explosion and 363 of them had been rescued. Scores were injured, Yildiz told reporters in Soma, where he was overseeing operations by more than 400 rescuers.

The last worker rescued alive emerged from the mine around dawn, a government official said on condition of anonymity because she didn't have prior authorization to speak publicly to journalists about the issue. As of 3:30 p.m., it had been about 10 hours since anyone had been brought out alive.

"Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing," Yildiz said before Erdogan's visit.

Erdogan said there were an estimated 120 workers still inside the mine.

"Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out," he said. "That is what we are waiting for."

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners stood outside the mine. The crowd shouted at officials, including when Yildiz passed by, and some wailed each time a body was brought up. A heavy police presence was in place around the mine.

The explosion tore through the mine as workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside than usual.

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.

In Istanbul, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the company which owns the mine, Soma Holding. In the capital, Ankara, police dispersed a group who tried to march to the energy ministry to protest the deaths, the Dogan news agency reported.

Erdogan warned that some radical groups would try to use the disaster to discredit the government.

Turkey's Labor and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, including in March of 2014, and that no issues violating work safety and security were detected. The country's main opposition party said Erdogan's ruling party had recently voted down a proposal for the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry into a series of small-scale accidents at mines around Soma.

Rescue workers emerged at a slow pace from the mine with stretchers carrying bodies, which were covered in blankets. The corpses' faces were blackened like the coal.

One man, who declined to be named, said he had led a 10-man team about a kilometer (half-mile), or halfway, down the mine into the tunnels and had recovered three bodies.

But the men had to flee because of smoke from coal that had been lit by the explosion, he said. Another man walked down the stairs from the mine's entrance weeping, with a look of dejection. Behind him, two groups bearing heavy stretchers pushed through the crowd like caterpillars.

As bodies were brought out on stretchers, rescue workers pulled blankets back from the faces of the dead to give jostling crowds of anxious family members a chance to identify victims. One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police restrained him from climbing into an ambulance with the body.

An injured rescue worker who emerged alive was whisked away on a stretcher to the cheers of onlookers. Yildiz said rescue operations were hindered because the mine hadn't been cleared of gas.

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.

Yildiz said earlier that some of the workers were 420 meters (460 yards) deep inside the mine. News reports said the workers couldn't use elevators to escape because the explosion had cut off power.

Overnight, people cheered and applauded as some trapped workers emerged. But others were consumed by grief.

Emine Gulsen, part of a group of women who sat wailing near the entrance to the mine, chanted, "My son is gone, my Mehmet." Her son, Mehmet Gulsen, 31, has been working in the mine for five years.

Mehmet Gulsen's aunt, Makbule Dag, held out hope. "Inshallah" (God willing), she said.

Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital to keep the crowds away.

SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the mine, 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.

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Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Berza Simsek in Soma contributed to this report.

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