Hundreds trapped, at least 20 dead after mine blast and fire in Turkey
A fire at a Turkish coal mine has killed at least 20 people and left hundreds more trapped underground, according to officials.
The fire broke out at a coal mine in the town of Soma in the western province of Manisa, some 250km south of Istanbul.
At least 20 miners have died in the blaze, and 30 have been hospitalised, Muzaffer Yurttas, a lawmaker for the region told NTV television.
Emergency services are preparing to evacuate between 300 and 400 miners believed to be still trapped 2,000 metres underground, according to the region's chief firefighter, Temel Korkmaz and district Governor Mehmet Bahattin Atci.
The mine's elevators aren't functioning as a result of the fire, the officials said.
With smoke rising from the mine, rescuers were trying to dispel it by pumping air in so that the trapped miners can breathe, Tamer Kucukgencay, a local union official, told reporters.
Atci said the explosion was caused by a power distribution unit. "Rescue efforts are underway," he said.
NTV television, a privately owned news channel, said the accident occurred some 2km deep inside the mine.
Quoting health officials, Yurttas told NTV that the victims had "died of choking and burns".
The mine collapse was caused by an explosion following an electric fault, a regional governor told NTV.
Some reports said there were up to 580 people trapped in the mine at the time of the explosion but many had managed to escape.
"I don't want to give any numbers. We first have to reach our workers underground," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said before heading to Manisa.
"Four separate rescue teams are currently working in the mine. The fire is creating a problem but oxygen is being pumped into the mine shafts that weren't affected."
Korkmaz said an initial rescue team was able to enter part of the mine to rescue 30 wounded, who were taken to a nearby hospital.
Yurttas said there were between 300 and 400 people still trapped inside the mine. Other estimates gave a lower figure.
Journalists were being kept away from the site but a witness told the station that ambulances were entering and leaving the area.
Rescue teams from neighbouring regions were being sent to the area.
Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions and regulation.
Turkey's worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 270 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.
Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press