Deadly Turkey blast 'traps hundreds'

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Media captionThe BBC's James Reynolds says there is no clear information about the situation at the mine

At least 17 people have been killed after an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey, officials say.

Hundreds were reported to be trapped underground at the mine in Soma, Manisa province, but Turkish media suggest as many as 157 have died.

A huge rescue operation has begun and some 20 people are reported to have been brought out so far.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has ordered the regional governor to deploy all resources to rescue the miners.

They are thought to be 4km (2.4 miles) from the entrance, at a depth of 2km.

While it is estimated that 580 workers were underground at the time of the blast, it is thought many of them managed to escape.

Union officials said as the blast occurred at shift changeover time, there was uncertainty about how many miners were still inside, Reuters news agency reports.

Large crowds of worried family members gathered near the privately-owned mine.

Thick smoke

Image copyright AP
Image caption The fire at the mine is said to have been triggered by an electrical fault
Image copyright AP
Image caption Rescue workers and many ambulances have been sent to the mine
Image copyright AP
Image caption Workers and relatives rushed to the mine
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Crowds also converged on the local hospital, waiting for news
Image copyright AP
Image caption Orders have been given for everything to be done to get the trapped miners out

A senior local official, Mehmet Bahattin Atci, said thick smoke was hampering rescue efforts.

Energy Ministry Taner Yildiz said it was a "serious accident" and that he was going to Soma to oversee the rescue operation.

He told reporters that the fire had been triggered by an electrical fault.

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.

Before leaving for Manisa, Mr Yildiz told journalists it was too early to be precise about the extent of casualties: "I don't want to give any numbers. We first have to reach our workers underground,"

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.