Hopes Dim For Turkish Miners, But Rescuers Carry On

May 15, 2014
Originally published on May 16, 2014 12:34 am
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. More than 280 men are now confirmed dead after an explosion caused a mine collapse in Soma, Turkey on Tuesday. Crowds of relatives, co-workers and rescue teams are still gathered at the entrance to the coal mine but they're losing hope. More than a hundred miners are still missing. No one has been brought out alive for more than a day. NPR's Leila Fadel was in Soma earlier today and joins us now. And, Leila, what's the latest you're hearing there about the ongoing search and rescue activity?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, that continues. Rescue and medical teams are on the scene at the mine, as I saw today, trying to get to people out, but the death toll keeps growing. And even though the state officials haven't ruled out that some of these people are still alive, I asked one of the rescue workers out there about the prospects of somebody surviving at this point, and this is what he had to say:

HAKAN IKOL: Impossible. Impossible. I'm mining engineer and search and group leader here. In my opinion, impossible.

FADEL: That was Hakan Ikol(ph). And he's the head of a search and rescue team and he's been there for the last 38 hours. And he says, based on what he's seeing down there, surviving this is just impossible. And if better safety precautions had been taken then this many workers wouldn't have died.

CORNISH: How did he describe the conditions down in the mine?

FADEL: He said that the mine is flooded with water, that is smells like death, that the bodies are soaked and bloated from the water and it just smells. That toxic gases are blowing back on the rescue workers when they try to pump fresh air in there. And it's just getting worse and worse every hour.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, you have all these people outside the mine waiting. What are they saying?

FADEL: There's this sort of anticipation, this palpable sadness while they wait, hoping that somebody will come out alive, but kind of knowing that it's unlikely at this point. A lot of family members waiting to see if their relative will be pulled out, but also people coming from the towns around - curious people just showing up to see how the efforts are going.

CORNISH: Leila, you've been elsewhere in the town too. What's the mood like there?

FADEL: Well, away from the mine, hundreds of people gathered at the cemetery today, and here's one of the scenes I witnessed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

FADEL: That's two women sobbing over their dead relative, as onlookers try to console them. And around them are a sea of graves - some are still empty - as more bodies are expected at the cemetery. And while people are showing up to mourn and bury their dead, they're also really angry. We saw a heated political argument graveside when some women blamed the government for the death of the miners and others said this is not the time for politics and tried to shush them. And it's not just a local issue. The nation is in mourning. All the television channels have black ribbons on their broadcasts and the radio stations are filled with haunting classical music.

CORNISH: Now, given what you've said, that this has become a national issue, how is it playing out politically for Turkish leaders?

FADEL: Well, we saw a lot of officials paying condolence calls today at the cemetery, already trying to sort of capitalize politically. The opposition is blaming the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is expected to run for president in August and is under intense criticism for this. He showed up in Soma yesterday, took no blame, saying accidents happen, and basically the crowds were enraged. People yelled things like murderer and thief. Unions are saying they'll go on strike for a day because they say that safety is number one priority and they failed to take precautions to prevent this tragedy. Protests also erupted yesterday in Istanbul and Ankara as well as here. And it could prove to be a major problem for what has been the ruling party here more than a decade, especially if the death toll keeps rising.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Leila Fadel. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.