274 dead in Turkey's worst-ever mine disaster

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274 dead in Turkey's worst-ever mine disaster
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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SOMA, Turkey (AP) -- In a relentless procession that ignited wails of grief and flashes of anger, rescue workers coated in grime lumbered out of a mine in western Turkey again and again Wednesday, struggling to carry bodies covered in blankets.

The corpses' faces were as black as the coal they worked on daily. There were 274 of them - and the fate of up to 150 other miners remained unclear in Turkey's deadliest-ever mining disaster.

While emergency workers battled a toxic mix of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in deep tunnels, anger and despair engulfed the town of Soma, where Turkish officials said at least 274 miners died in Tuesday's coal mine explosion and fire.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heckled as he tried to show concern and anti-government protests erupted in Soma, Istanbul and Ankara, the capital. Erdogan had to seek refuge in a supermarket, surrounded by police, then leave in a black car after the protest in Soma died down. He also did little for his reputation by noting that workplace accidents are "ordinary things" that happen in many countries.

The display of anger could have significant repercussions for Erdogan, who is widely expected to run for president in the August election, although he has not yet announced his candidacy.

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the mine's entrance Wednesday, waiting for news amid a heavy police presence. Rows of women wailed uncontrollably and men knelt sobbing or simply stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed body after body.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people had been inside the coal mine at the time of Tuesday's explosion: 274 had died, 363 had been rescued and scores of them were injured.

The death toll topped a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near Turkey's Black Sea port of Zonguldak. It also left 150 miners still unaccounted for.

Erdogan said Wednesday morning that 120 miners were still missing. There was no immediate way to reconcile the differing figures.

Rescuers were still trying to vent out the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and pump clean air into the mine, according to mine owner Soma Komur Isletmeleri A.S.

Some workers had been up to 420 meters (460 yards) deep inside the mine, Yildriz said. One rescue worker who declined to be named said he had led a 10-man team about a kilometer (half-mile) down into the mine's tunnels. They recovered three bodies but had to quickly turn around and flee because of smoke from burning coal.

The last worker rescued alive emerged from the mine around dawn and the first burials took place later Wednesday. Rescue operations were halted for several hours into Thursday morning because high gas concentrations in the mine needed to be cleared.

Giza Nergiz, a 28-year-old English teacher, said some of the workers who died had complained about safety at the mine.

"We buried three of our high school friends today," she said, walking with her husband Onur Nergiz, a 30-year-old mine administrator. "A lot of people were complaining about safety, but nobody (in management) was doing anything about it."

Erdogan had declared three days of national mourning and postponed a trip to Albania to visit the mine in Soma, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul. He had warned that some radical groups would try to use the disaster to discredit his government.

"Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out," Erdogan said of those still trapped. "That is what we are waiting for."

Yet his efforts to appear statesman-like - discussing rescue operations with authorities, walking near the mine entrance, trying to comfort two crying women - did not go over well. And some of his statements appeared completely tone-deaf.

"These are ordinary things. There is a thing in literature called `work accident'... It happens in other work places, too," Erdogan told reporters as he tried to deflect a question about who was responsible for the disaster. "It happened here. It's in its nature. It's not possible for there to be no accidents in mines. Of course we were deeply pained by the extent here."

In this industrial town, where coal mining has been the main industry for decades, Erdogan's ties to mining leaders were sharply noted. Locals said the wife of the Soma mine's boss reportedly works for Erdogan's party and the boss himself had skipped town.

"They are trying to look like they care but they are not helping anyone. There is no urgency, even now. People blame Tayyip," Giza Nergiz said Wednesday.

In downtown Soma, protesters mostly in their teens and 20s faced off against riot police in front of the ruling NKP party headquarters. The protesters smashed some of the party's office windows with rocks, shouting that Erdogan was a "Murderer!" and a "Thief!"

"Our prime minister is a dictator," said protester Melih Atik, 16. "Neither the government nor the company took precautions in the mine and everyone knows that's why this happened."

Erdogan was forced to oust four ministers from his government in December after they were implicated in a police bribery and corruption probe. The scandal deepened after a series of audio recordings were posted on the Internet suggesting corruption by the prime minister and his family members. Erdogan denies corruption and says the allegations are a plot to discredit his government.

In Istanbul, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of mine owner Soma Komur Isletmeleri A.S. Police used tear gas and water cannon to break up a group who tried to march to the city's iconic Taksim Square to denounce poor safety conditions.

Police also dispersed a group marching to the energy ministry in Ankara to protest the deaths.

Fences were erected and police also stood guard around Soma hospital, which was treating scores of injured miners. Some locals said the men were being pressured by the mining company not to talk about the blast.

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire at a power distribution unit and the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Erdogan promised the tragedy would be investigated to its "smallest detail" and that "no negligence will be ignored."

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Tuesday's explosion tore through the mine during a shift change, which likely raised the casualty toll.

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

Emine Gulsen sat with other women Wednesday near the entrance to the mine, where her missing son, 31-year-old Mehmet Gulsen, has worked for five years.

"My son is gone! My Mehmet!" she wailed over and over.

But Mehmet's aunt, Makbule Dag, still held out some hope.

"Inshallah (God willing)" he will be rescued, she said.

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

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