Turkey seeks to rescue 18 miners trapped by flood
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would be travelling to the scene
Turkish emergency workers were Wednesday trying to reach 18 miners who were trapped when their shaft was engulfed by water, amid growing fears that they may have drowned.
The accident in the southern province of Karaman was the latest to hit the disaster-prone Turkish mining industry after 301 workers were killed in May in an explosion at a mine in Soma in the west of the country.
The catastrophe has cast a huge shadow over Wednesday's celebrations for the annual Republic Day which marks the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923 out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would be travelling to the scene and would cancel a planned lavish reception for the holiday scheduled to be held at his new presidential palace in Ankara.
But he insisted that there was still a chance of finding the miners alive.
“Our expectations and our hopes have not been lost. Our friends and ministers are continuing to work and make efforts there,” he said in Ankara in comments broadcast by state television.
The 18 miners were believed to be trapped in a flooded shaft over 300 metres (1,000 feet) underground. At least 34 miners were underground at the time of the accident Tuesday but 16 escaped unscathed early on.
Rescue workers have been seeking to reduce the water levels by pumping out the water with a gigantic pipe. But the levels had continued to rise until finally starting to fall in the night.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz confirmed late Tuesday that there had been no contact with any of the trapped miners.
“Time is against us,” he acknowledged.
The accident took place when a build-up of water caused the walls of the shaft to collapse but officials have been unable to explain what caused the accumulation of water.
The government has sought to show it is on top of the situation after the Soma disaster sparked a wave of fury against Erdogan, who was accused of indifference to the plight of the victims.
He notoriously appeared then to play down the tragedy by saying such catastrophes were part of the job and comparing it to mining disasters in early industrial 19th-century Britain.