Update: Violent protest erupts as death toll rises to 245 in Turkish coal mine explosion

BY Joshua Barajas  May 14, 2014 at 10:45 AM EST
A miner has died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. Photo by Soner Ovumlu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

At least 17 people have died and more than 200 miners have been trapped inside a mine in the western Turkish province of Manisa, following a malfunction at an electrical transformer nearby late on May 13, 2014. Photo by Soner Ovumlu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated May 14, 12:15 p.m. EDT | Turkish officials raised the death toll to 245 Wednesday as rescue units continue to search for 120 miners still trapped underground.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the site in Soma on Wednesday, declaring three days of mourning for those that died in Tuesday’s accident. He added that “no negligence will be ignored.”

However, in a country where mining accidents are not uncommon, violent protests erupted among the grieving public, who directed their anger at the government.
Many in the crowd accused Erdogan of being a “murderer” and a “thief.” They threw rocks at the front of the ruling party headquarters as they faced off against riot police who had water cannons and gas masks.

Updated May 13, 5:42 p.m. EDT | The collapse of a coal mine in western Turkey has killed at least 70 people and trapped more than 200 others after a power distribution unit exploded, the country’s disaster management center said Tuesday.

The explosion and fire triggered a mine collapse, which occurred in the town of Soma, in the Manisa Province of Turkey. Local official Mehmet Bahattin Atci said that 20 people have been rescued from the mine, 11 of them with injuries.

The disaster agency said that “more than 200 workers” are still trapped underground, the Associated Press reports, revising Atci’s earlier numbers that placed the total between 200 and 300 people.

Video by Associated Press

Rescue teams have been pumping clean oxygen into the mine for those still trapped.

“Four separate rescue teams are currently working in the mine,” Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters. “The fire is creating a problem, but oxygen is being pumped into the mine shafts that weren’t affected.”

Yildiz, who’s supervising the rescue operation, said the fire was triggered by an electrical fault.

Local reports indicated that the explosion occurred about one-and-a-quarter miles underground.

Turkish parliament member Muzaffer Yurttas retracted his earlier statement that 20 people had died from smoke inhalation and burns. He has since told CNN Turk that four people had been killed and 20 others hospitalized, Reuters reports.