ANKARA, Turkey — An explosion caused the collapse of an underground chamber of a Turkish coal mine, killing 19 workers, the government said Friday.
The blast at a mine in northwestern Turkey buried the miners nearly 720 feet (220 meters) below the surface on Thursday night, said Labor Minister Omer Dincer.
The explosion was triggered by the use of dynamite during the digging in the mine, said Gov. Sahabettin Harput of the western province of Bursa.
"We lost all 19 workers. The chamber was entirely collapsed," Dincer said. The minister said workers had pulled out nine bodies by late Friday afternoon and were trying to reach the remaining 10 that were buried in other chambers.
Earlier, Dincer said workers were trying to re-erect supports to reach the dead miners and the job could take a day. Hundreds of logs used to support the ceilings and walls of the shafts were piled outside the entrance of the mine in the village of Devecikonagi in Bursa.
"They have to do it very carefully, slowly," Dincer said.
Hamza Baskurt, one of the rescue workers, said they saw bodies in the rubble but could not take them out.
"It was a big explosion, it is obvious from their faces, hands and clothes," Baskurt, an exhausted miner with a blackened face, told NTV television. Mothers and wives of the miners wailed near the entrance of the mine.
Four workers who were outside the chamber at the time of the blast survived the accident, Dincer said.
The rescue work had been complicated by the high concentration of flammable gas inside the mine.
Rescuers initially pumped air into the mine to try to dispel the gas as they waited for experienced miners with adequate equipment from other cities to arrive by road. Heavy fog prevented transportation of them by helicopter.
Paramilitary troops cordoned off the area and tried to calm relatives of the missing miners.
Dincer said the mine was last inspected in May and has been regularly inspected. The mine has been operational since 1983.
Safety violations and outdated equipment have been factors in past mine accidents in Turkey.
Seventeen miners were killed in a methane gas explosion at a coal mine in western Balikesir province three years ago.
In Turkey's worst mining disaster, a gas explosion killed 270 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak in 1992.