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Over 200 dead in Turkish coal mine explosion

Medics help a rescued miner after an explosion and fire at a coal mine killed at least 150 miners and left up to 200 workers trapped underground, in Soma, in western Turkey, May 13, 2014. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Depo Photos

An explosion and fire in a coal mine in western Turkey killed at least 200 miners and trapped hundreds more on Tuesday, with the death toll expected to rise in the country’s worst mining accident for more than two decades.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 workers had been in the mine in Soma, around 120 kilometres northeast of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, when the blast occurred.

At least 80 miners were injured.

Yildiz said the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning and feared the toll could end up much higher than the latest count of 166 workers.

“Time is working against us. We fear that the numbers could rise further,” Yildiz said. “We have to finish this (rescue operation) by dawn. I have to say that our pain, our trouble could increase.”

The accident occurred when the workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside than usual.

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.

Turkey’s worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

With files from The Associated Press