ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — An explosion and a fire Tuesday killed at least 151 workers at a coal mine in western Turkey and hundreds more remained trapped underground, government officials said as Turkey launched a massive rescue operation.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the coal mine in Soma at the time of the accident and 363 of them had been rescued so far. He said 76 miners were injured, including one who was in serious condition. The mine is located some 250 kilometers (155.35 miles) from Istanbul.
Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.
Yildiz said most of the deaths were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Time is working against us," Yildiz said earlier. He said some 400 rescuers were involved in the operation.
Yildiz said some of the workers were 420 meters (460 yards) deep inside the mine.
Television footage showed people cheering and applauding as some trapped workers emerged out of the mine, helped by rescuers, their faces and hard-hats covered in soot. One wiped away tears on his jacket, another smiled, waved and flashed a "thumbs up" sign at onlookers.
Authorities had earlier said that the blast left between 200 to 300 miners underground and were preparing for the possibility that the death toll could jump dramatically, making arrangements to set up a cold storage facility to hold the corpses of miners recovered from the site.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan postponed a one-day visit to Albania scheduled for Wednesday and planned to visit Soma instead.