Relatives and family members, some sobbing and wailing, waited through the night and into the morning for word about the fate of their loved ones. Officials say some 120 are still unaccounted for, according to the BBC.
But as hope continued to fade that any of the missing would be found alive, tensions rose and bubbled over in the form of protests and clashes with police in Soma, Istanbul and Ankara.
— Hurriyet Daily News (@HDNER) May 14, 2014
— Erdem Arda Güneş (@eagunes) May 14, 2014
— Marquis Le Dain (@MarquisLeDain) May 14, 2014
One man named Turgut Sidal, a tall, steely-eyed coal miner, stood in the throng of onlookers, as seen in video captured by Agence France-Presse. “This isn’t something that suddenly happens,” he said. “There are people who are dying. People who are injured, and it’s all because of money. People are dying and there’s nothing we can do about it. They send us here like lambs to the slaughter. We’re not safe doing this job.”
Much of the grief and anger has been directed at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government for ignoring safety warnings about the country’s mines.
After he traveled to Soma to visit the mine site Wednesday, Erdogan was booed and jeered by a group of angry protesters outside of a building where he was holding a news conference. Some called Erdogan “murderer” and “thief.”
Attacks on the Pm convoy. pic.twitter.com/foNy9zvx32
— Rumeysa (@rausie_) May 14, 2014
A main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party accused Erdogan and the ruling party of rejecting requests for a parliamentary inquiry into safety and working conditions of mines.
Erdogan pledged a “meticulous” investigation of the accident, but he also further inflamed tensions by suggesting that mining accidents in the country are “always happening.”
Citing several 19th century examples, including an 1838 mining accident in Britain that killed 204, and a 1907 mine accident in America that killed 361, Erdogan said events such as the Soma tragedy was common in the mining industry.
“These accidents are things which are always happening. Please, we should not interpret what happens in these coal mines as impossible. These are usual things. There is something called ‘work accidents’ in the literature. This does not only happen at mines, but at other workplaces too,” said Erdoğan said, according to Hurriyet Daily, a major Turkish newspaper. Erdogan said that the Soma mine had been recently inspected and was confirmed to be safe.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people were inside the mine when an electrical failure caused the explosion. Most who were killed are believed to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The government has declared three days of mourning
Dozens of Turkish miners were killed in 1990 in a coal mine blast, and Turkey’s worst mining accident occurred in a mine near the Black Sea port Zonguldak and left 263 dead in 1992.
The Washington Post's Terrence McCoy contributed to this report.