ANKARA – Hopes dimmed Thursday for the 18 miners trapped in a coal mine that collapsed in central Turkey two days ago, as the opposition denounced the government for being unprepared and chaotic in its response to the disaster.
“There is confusion and chaos, even now, on Thursday, many hours after the accident,” which occurred Tuesday at noon, Ilhan Cihaner, a deputy from the opposition Social Democratic Party (CHP), told Efe by telephone.
“There is no hope of finding the miners alive and it may even take weeks to locate where their bodies are, because the bottom of the mine is buried under several meters of mud,” said Cihaner, speaking from Ermenek, in Karaman province, where the mine is located.
On Tuesday, a landslide allowed accumulated groundwater to flood the gallery of the mine, about 375 meters (1230 feet) underground, trapping 18 workers.
Cihaner accused the government of proceeding by guesswork, without really knowing the situation at the bottom of the mine, or the source of the water or how much of that water still has to be removed.
Meanwhile, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, admitted in a statement read out Thursday over the CNNTürk channel that hopes of a successful rescue were fading.
“As time passes, our hopes grow dimmer. We’re bailing out water, and have already brought it to the level of 16 meters, but new problems arise, and several new landslides occurred,” said the minister.
“We cannot send specialist rescue teams to the area because we have to follow safety procedures,” he added.
Yildiz also admitted it was difficult to lower water pumps into the mine on account of the landslides which have blocked roads, complicating efforts to bring heavy-duty equipment such as lifting cranes to the site.
He said the visit of Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday to the disaster site slowed the rescue efforts.
“Thousands of police officers were deployed for the purpose of protecting the politicians. Roads were closed off in a radius of 30-40 kilometers (18 to 25 miles). For hours, water pumps could not be transported to where they were needed,” he said.
Both Davutoglu and Erdogan criticized working conditions of the miners who were not allowed to leave the mine during their lunch break and not even given time away from the coalface to relieve themselves.
Some had not even been paid for three months, the daily Hürriyet reported.
Tuesday’s tragedy was the second large-scale disaster in the Turkish coal mining sector this year, after 301 workers died in May in a fire at a coalmine at Soma, in the west of the country.