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Transformer explodes in Turkish coal mine; 201 die in fire

By Talia Kayali, Gul Tuysuz and Michael Martinez, CNN
May 14, 2014 -- Updated 0748 GMT (1548 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Official death toll grows rapidly, now at 201 people
  • More than 200 workers are still stranded, disaster agency says
  • Clean air is reaching parts of the mine where there is no fire, says energy minister

(CNN) -- A fire caused by a transformer explosion in a coal mine in western Turkey killed 201 people, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters early Wednesday.

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Coordination Directorate said 80 injured people have been rescued and eight uninjured people were rescued. Crowds gathered around the rescue operation in the post-midnight darkness Wednesday.

Earlier, Manisa Mayor Cengiz Ergun told CNN Turk that the death toll was 157. CNN Turk aired the rescue of one miner to a cheering crowd.

More than 200 workers were still stranded late Tuesday, according to preliminary findings by Turkey's Manisa Natural Disaster and Emergency Coordination Directorate.

Friends and relatives of dead miners pray at a cemetery on Saturday, May 17. The search for victims of this week's coal mine fire in Soma is now over, with a final death toll of 301, Turkish government officials said Saturday. Friends and relatives of dead miners pray at a cemetery on Saturday, May 17. The search for victims of this week's coal mine fire in Soma is now over, with a final death toll of 301, Turkish government officials said Saturday.
Coal mine disaster in Turkey
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Photos: Coal mine disaster in Turkey Photos: Coal mine disaster in Turkey
Families hold vigil outside Turkish mine

Ergun said 30 workers had been rescued, but he earlier said as many as 400 workers might still be underground.

The mine shaft is about two-thirds of a mile -- or 1 kilometer -- underground, the disaster agency said.

A member of Parliament from Manisa said 16 people were being treated for injuries. The dead and injured seemed to be suffering from burns and suffocation, said Muzaffer Yurttas.

About 100 rescuers, dozens of ambulances and a helicopters were dispatched to the scene, officials said.

"The rescue teams are very experienced," said Yildiz, the minister. "They know what they need to do."

In the initial moments after the blast, "it was important for there to be clean air going underground," Yildiz said. Officials turned an exit pipe "into a clean air pipe," so "there is fresh air being given in places where there is no fire," he added.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in Ankara, said the country is working "to rescue our stranded brothers."

2 West Virginia coal miners killed

CNN's Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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