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Fourteen miners perish in Soma mine’s only refuge chamber

16 May 2014

Fourteen miners who took shelter inside the only refuge chamber available in the Soma mine died today, ‘Hurriyet’ reported. They shared oxygen in turns before perishing, response teams have said, as further details of the worst accident in Turkish mining history continue to emerge.

The disaster has drawn attention to the lack of refuge chambers in mines in Turkey. It was discovered that the mine at Soma which employs 6,500 miners only has one refuge chamber despite the fact that the owner of the mine Alp Gurkan, in an interview with daily newspaper ‘Dunya’ on 29th April, 2013, stated that there were several refuge chambers in the mine.

The chamber, which only had an area of five square metres, was also proven insufficient, contradicting Gurkan’s account that the facilities could provide enough oxygen and food for miners for “20 days.”

It is thought that the 14 miners entered the small chamber after realising that it would be impossible to escape from the mine before running out of oxygen as the mine was filled with deadly carbon monoxide gas from the fire which followed the explosion.

They reportedly used the oxygen bottles available in the chamber in turns, passing the masks around until the air was exhausted.

Rescue workers who entered the chamber found the bodies of the 14 men piled one on top of the other.

According to research conducted by the Turkish Mining Engineers’ Chamber, only four of around 400 mines have refuge chambers, and those four are metal mines, not coal.

The refuge chambers, which come in various models, are designed to provide all essentials to miners until they are reached by rescue teams. They can provide oxygen, food and water for up to 40 people for a month, according to the model. The chambers also include first-aid kits and telephones.

Countries such as the United States, Britain and Germany require mining companies to have refuge chambers if it takes over one hour’s walk to reach the mine’s entrance from the tunnels.

Only a few countries, including Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan, lack legal arrangements regarding the existence of refuge chambers in mines.

According to Dogan News Agency, companies producing the refuge chambers had submitted a report on their projects to the Turkish authorities. The projects, however, were suspended after uncertainty about whether the Labour Ministry or the Energy Ministry were responsible for the matter.

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