SOMA, Turkey: Rescuers struggled to reach more than 200 miners trapped underground early today after an explosion and a fire at a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least 166 workers, authorities said, in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma, about 155 miles south of Istanbul, at the time of the accident and 363 of them had been rescued so far.
At least 80 miners were injured, including four who were in serious condition, Yildiz told reporters in Soma, as he oversaw the rescue operation involving some 400 rescuers.
The accident occurred when the workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside than usual.
Yildiz said the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning and feared the toll could end up much higher than the latest count of 166 workers.
He said rescue operations were hindered because the mine had not completely been cleared of gas.
Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.
Nurettin Akcul, a mining trade union leader, told HaberTurk television that Turkey was likely facing its worst mining accident ever.
“Time is working against us. We fear that the numbers could rise further,” Yildiz said. “We have to finish this [rescue operation] by dawn. I have to say that our pain, our trouble could increase.”