As the death toll continues to mount in what some are calling the worst mining disaster in the history of Turkey, Pope Francis is inviting the faithful to pray for the miners who have died and those who are still trapped in the crippled mine.
“I invite you to pray for the miners who died yesterday in the mine of Soma, in Turkey,” the pope said yesterday after his General Audience. “And for those who are still trapped in the tunnels. May the Lord welcome the deceased to His home and give comfort to their families.”
Various news sources are reporting that an estimated 787 people were working in the coal mine, located about 155 miles south of Istanbul, when a power distribution unit exploded and caught fire. The explosion occurred during a shift change which resulted in more people than usual being in the mine.
According to Fox News, 238 miners are dead and hundreds remain trapped in the mine’s smoke and gas-filled chambers which are more than 400 yards underground. Survivors of the explosion are unable to use lifts to get out of the mine because the explosion cut off all power.
Meanwhile, workers from nearby mines are being brought to the scene to help in the frantic rescue operation. One 30 year-old man, who declined to give his name, told the Associated Press that he rushed to the stricken mine to help find his brother who is still missing. He was able to descent about 490 feet inside the mine before being turned back by the gases. With tears in his eyes, he said he saw fires burning and believed workers who remain below-ground have simply been down there too long to survive.
“There is no hope,” he said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared three days of national mourning and ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff.
With the death toll still mounting, this is believed to be the worst mining accident in Turkish history, a country whose mining industry is plagued by accidents. Even though the mine where the explosion occurred was said to have passed inspected as recently as March, Erdogan is now under fire for voted down a recent proposal that would have established a parliamentary inquiry into a series of smaller accidents in mines around Soma.
The country’s Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, said that if negligence is to blame for the disaster “we will not turn a blind eye to it” and promised to “do whatever is necessary including all administrative and legal steps.”
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