At least 22 killed after coal mine blast in Turkey: Health minister

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At least 22 people were killed Friday after a methane gas blast tore through a pit along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, the country’s health minister said.

Television images showed hundreds of people -- some with tears in their eyes -- congregating around a damaged white building near the entrance to the pit in the Black Sea town of Amasra.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately dispatched his interior and energy ministers to the scene to oversee the rescue effort.

Local governor Nurtac Arslan said five people were trapped 350 meters (385 feet) below ground and 44 at another location 300 meters below ground.

She said 14 miners had managed to crawl out of the damaged pit on their own and were now receiving medical assistance.

“Our rescue efforts continue,” Arslan told reporters.

Turkey’s Maden Is mining workers’ union attributed the blast to a build-up of methane gas.

But other officials said it was premature to draw definitive conclusions over the cause of the accident.

The blast occurred moments before sunset and the rescue effort was being impeded by the dark.

Most initial information about those trapped inside was coming from workers who had managed to climb out relatively unharmed.

The Maden Is union estimated that some 100 workers were underground at the time of the blast.

It said 35 people were still blocked about an hour after the explosion.

Rescuers sent in reinforcements from surrounding villages to help search for signs of life.

Television images showed paramedics giving oxygen to the miners who had climbed out and then rushing them to the nearest hospitals.

Turkey’s AFAD disaster management service said the initial spark that caused the blast appeared to have come from a malfunctioning transformer.

The local governor said a team of more than 70 rescuers had managed to reach a point in the pit some 250 meters below ground.

It was not immediately clear if the rescuers would be able to come any closer to the trapped workers or what was blocking their further passage.

The local public prosecutor’s office said it was treating the incident as an accident and launching a formal investigation.

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