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Explosion in Turkish coal mine kills 41, authorities say

A woman reacts during the search-and-rescue operation after a coal mine explosion, in Amasra in the northern Bartin province, Turkey, on Saturday. (Cagla Gurdogan/Reuters)

ISTANBUL — An explosion in a coal mine in northern Turkey killed at least 41 workers and injured nearly a dozen others, authorities said Saturday as they announced the end of a massive effort to rescue any stranded workers.

The explosion occurred Friday in a state-owned mine in Turkey’s Bartin province on the Black Sea coast. Officials said the cause of the explosion was still under investigation but that an initial assessment suggested it was caused by firedamp, referring to concentrations of flammable gas like methane.

As fire burned in the mine early Saturday, rescuers hoped to reach about 15 workers believed to be alive but trapped roughly 1,000 feet underground, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. As the day wore on, officials announced higher death tolls, dashing hopes of a rescue. Finally, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a visit to the area late Saturday, said the last miner who was unaccounted for had died.

“It is very important to understand how this explosion took place,” Erdogan said, adding that investigations into the cause were underway.

At least 110 people were working inside the mine when the explosion occurred. Eleven workers were being treated for injuries in Istanbul and in Bartin province, Soylu said. Fifty-eight workers were rescued or escaped the mine, he added.

Photographs showed throngs of people gathered at the entrance of the mine, including tearful relatives and rescue workers, a waiting row of ambulances and an injured miner covered in what appeared to be black soot.

Hundreds dead or trapped in one of Turkey’s worst mining disasters

Turkey suffered its worst mining accident in 2014, when 301 people were killed after an explosion in a coal mine in the town of Soma, about 150 miles south of Istanbul, sparked a fire that burned for days. Protests after the accident targeted the mine’s owners as well as Erdogan, after he downplayed the incident, suggesting that such accidents were commonplace.

Government officials appeared eager to strike a different tone after the latest accident. Erdogan, who canceled a trip to southeastern Turkey and traveled to Bartin on Saturday, said on Twitter that the rescue work had started “immediately” after the accident and that the “families and children of our lost miner friends are in our caring hands.”

“We will not allow the slightest grievance,” he said. “Our judicial authorities will investigate this tragic incident thoroughly and even the slightest negligence will not be left unanswered.” Speaking at the scene of the accident, he added: “We are the people who believe in the plan of destiny.”

Erdogan also spoke with an unidentified woman who said her brother was among the dead miners, according to video of the conversation carried by local news outlets.

“My brother said there was a gas leak here 10 to 15 days ago, they will detonate this place,” the woman, crying, told Erdogan. “How was it neglected? He said they’re going to blow us up here.”

“He felt it was going to happen,” the woman added.

Fahim reported from Doha, Qatar. Beril Eski contributed reporting.