AMASRA, Turkey — The death toll from a coal mine explosion in northern Turkey rose to at least 40 people Saturday, officials said.
Desperate relatives had waited all night in the cold outside the state-owned TTK Amasra Muessese Mudurlugu mine in the town of Amasra, in the Black Sea coastal province of Bartin, hoping for news. There were 110 miners working in the shaft when the explosion occurred Friday evening.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Saturday that 40 miners were confirmed dead. Eleven were injured and hospitalized, while 58 others managed to get out of the mine on their own or were rescued unharmed. The status of one remaining miner was unclear.
Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said rescue efforts were almost complete. Earlier he had said that a fire was still burning in the mine's gallery where more than a dozen miners had been trapped. Work to isolate and cool the fire continued, he said.
Preliminary assessments indicated that the explosion was likely caused by firedamp, which is a reference to flammable gases found in coal mines, Donmez said overnight. Three prosecutors were investigating the blast.
A miner who works the day shift said he saw the news and hurried to the site to help with the rescue. "We saw a frightful scene, it cannot be described, it's very sad," said Celal Kara, 40. "They're all my friends... they all had dreams," the miner of 14 years said after exiting the mine, his face covered in soot.
Ambulances were on standby at the site. Rescue teams were dispatched to the area, including from neighboring provinces, Turkey's disaster management agency, AFAD, said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to visit Amasra on Saturday. He tweeted that any neglect would punished.
Separately, the Turkish police headquarters said in a statement that legal action would be taken against 12 online users who allegedly shared provocative content about the mine explosion to incite hate on social media.
Turkey's worst mine disaster was in 2014, when 301 miners died after a fire erupted inside a coal mine in the town of Soma, in the west of the country.