BALCILAR, Turkey (Reuters) - A gas explosion killed at least 16 female students and injured 27 others, wrecking a dormitory at a girls’ school in southern Turkey on Friday, Interior Minister Besir Atalay said.
Several girls were feared trapped under the rubble of the three-storey building in Balcilar village in the Toros mountain range, some 340 km (210 miles) south of the capital Ankara.
“We have been informed that 16 students died and 27 were injured. We think that there are still four or six more children under the rubble,” Atalay told reporters at the scene.
Around 50 people, female students and teachers, were in the building when it collapsed from the gas explosion, local residents told Reuters.
The dormitory, flattened like a house of cards, was in the province of Konya and was being used for students aged eight to 16 who were taking part in a course of Islamic study.
Merve Avci, a 13-year-old headscarved student who suffered slight injuries, told reporters she had smelled gas coming from downstairs to the upper floors, and then felt the explosion.
“I was in the part of the building which didn’t collapse with five of my friends immediately after the explosion, and we felt flames rising from the downstairs to upper floors,” she said, according to Anatolian news agency. “We shouted for them to save us,” she said, according to NTV broadcaster.
Anatolian said the building belonged to a religious foundation. Turkish media said the school was most likely illegal because Koran courses outside the control of the state’s education authorities are prohibited in Turkey.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would later visit the village.
VOICES FROM RUBBLE
At the scene, dozens of emergency rescue workers wielding pick axes and hammers dug at the rubble with the assistance of a powerful mechanical digger. Local residents were also helping dig with their bare hands.
Television footage also showed injured girls being carried from a minibus into a hospital in a nearby town. The only structure left standing was a shell of one side of the building with some beds visible, with bed sheets still on them.
Medical rescue teams were at the scene and had pulled out one of three girls they had established contact with under the rubble.
“We are hearing voices. I believe those inside the rubble will be saved,” Balcilar village mayor Mehmet Demirgul told NTV broadcaster.
“We think the collapse was caused by a gas canister explosion in the building, given the burns on the injured,” Konya health service official Galip Sef said, according to Anatolian.
Konya Governor Osman Aydin said the blast occurred around 5 a.m. (3 a.m. British time) in Balcilar, at the southern tip of Turkey’s central province of Konya.
“We wish to express our condolences,” said Interior Minister Atalay.
Writing by Paul de Bendern and Daren Butler; Editing by Stephen Weeks
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.