ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Hopes were fading on Tuesday that 18 miners who were trapped in a flooded coal mine in southern Turkey would be rescued.
Rescue teams, including divers, continued their work at the mine outside of the town of Ermenek in Karaman province, about 110 km (70 miles) north of Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline.
It was the second major industrial accident at a Turkish mine in six months. Turkey’s deadliest disaster occurred in May in the western town of Soma, where 301 miners were killed, sparking a national outcry over the country’s shoddy worker safety record. Hundreds of laborers die every year.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters in comments broadcast live that the level of the water that had flooded the mine had now surpassed the area were the miners were situated.
“Water is rising one meter every two hours ... Time is working against us,” said Yildiz, adding 34 people were working below ground at the time of the flood.
The source of the water was unclear and could be from collected rainwater or another deposit, Yildiz said.
Turkish media reported huge volumes of water had rushed into mine shafts. Hundreds of rescue workers were working to pump the water out but it continued to flow into the mine.
The flood occurred around 3 p.m. local time (0900 ET) when workers were eating their lunch and the trapped miners were about 350 meters below ground, Kerim Pinarli, one of 16 miners who was able to escape, told NTV news channel.
“We smelled gas and heard our friends below shout, ‘There’s gas, don’t come!’ We escaped by seconds,” Pinarli said.
Family members of trapped miners lit fires to keep warm while keeping vigil outside of the mine’s entrance, NTV said.
Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley and Humeyra Pamuk