By Maria Gerbic
An explosion at a coal mine in Soma, Turkey on Tuesday, May 13, killed 299 workers and injured 80. The death toll rose to 299 on Saturday after a second fire broke out. Three workers are still believed trapped in the Soma mine. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogen has expressed indifference to the situation, characterizing mining accidents as “ordinary things” and saying that, “This is what happens in coal mining.” This comment enraged families and prompted 1,500 protesters to gather Friday, expressing their anger towards the government.
An explosion lead to a fire Tuesday that caused the mine’s elevator to stop working. 787 miners were working during the explosion, but because it occurred close to a shift change, the exact number of workers is uncertain. Most of those who were killed died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Fifteen bodies were removed from the mine late Friday night, but were so badly burned that authorities were unable to identify them. Mourners gathered for answers Wednesday when the prime minister traveled to Soma.
Prime Minister Erdogen deepened public outrage towards the incident when he said that such disasters were commonplace. He recited a list of accidents that occurred in Britain, seeming to characterize the incident as minor and common. His comments inflamed the crowd who erupted into violent protests, threatening the prime minister for his insensitivity. Experts on mine safety have dismissed the incident as an ordinary occurrence.
Mining experts assert that precautions are put in place to prevent explosions. According to Tom Hethmon, professor of mine safety at the University of Utah, “The risk is constant but has to be managed. The margins of error are low.” There were too many men in the mine on Tuesday, on top of the shift change that was occurring. The explosion originated in the power distribution center, where energy from the surface is sent to cables throughout the mine. This puts every power center, cable, and mining machine at risk for ignition. The explosion cut the power off to elevators, and there were no alternate escape routes. According to Davitt McAteer, a former federal mine safety chief, “If that [no implemented alternate escape routes] is not being done, then that’s a violation of very basic safety practices.” The lack of regulations in the Soma mine led to a more deadly disaster in which many deaths could have been prevented.