May 13, 2014 - 21:50 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Several miners are reported to have been killed after an explosion and a fire at a coal mine in western Turkey, according to BBC News.
Up to 300 other workers are believed to be trapped underground at the mine in Soma, Manisa province. Those trapped are about 2km (1.2 miles) below the surface and 4km from the mine's exit.
Search and rescue operations are taking place. It is estimated that 580 workers were underground at the time of the blast, but that many escaped.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul has ordered the regional governor to deploy all resources to rescue the miners.
Quoting health officials, local MP Muzaffer Yurttas earlier told broadcaster NTV that 20 bodies had been retrieved and that at least another 20 workers had been taken to hospital. But he said later that four people had been killed.
"They died of choking and burns," he said.
A senior local official, Mehmet Bahattin Atci, said thick smoke at the privately owned mine was hampering rescue efforts.
Energy Ministry Taner Yildiz is going to Soma to oversee the rescue operation, NTV said. He told reporters that the fire at the mine was triggered by an electrical fault.
Although Yıldız mentioned "casualties" in his first statement after the accident, he warned that the death tolls reported in the press could be "misleading", Hurriyet newspaper reported.
"Various numbers can be reported. I don't want to give any numbers. We first have to reach our workers underground," he told journalists before leaving for Manisa.
He also said that four separate rescue teams were currently working in the mine. "The fire creates a problem but oxygen is being pumped into the mine shafts that weren't affected," he added.
Analysts say the safety record of Turkey's coal mining industry lags behind that of most industrial nations.
The country's worst mining disaster was in 1992, when 270 miners were killed near Zonguldak, on the Black Sea.