On October 28, 2014, around noon, when bleak sunlight struck the dry mountainsides of Ermenek, Turkey, tens of thousands of gallons of water coursed through man-made tunnels some 900 feet below the surface of earth. In that dark abyss, crusted with coal dust, over 40 men were surrounded by the rising flood. They were in a coal mine. Eight left the flooded gallery as their shifts ended. Then the water rose and the walls fell. About 20 workers were trapped, and remain trapped.
Ambulances and rescue teams were quickly dispatched. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız and Transport Minister Lütfi Elvan traveled to watch the rescue operations. “We are pumping the water to rescue them,” said mine official Şahin Uyar. “There is 50 meters of water, 350 meters underground. The masks can resist for two hours. There are two places where they can escape. But they may have drowned, because the water flooded [the gallery] suddenly.”
The Ermenek coal mine flood occurred mere months after the Soma mining disaster, which killed 301 workers in a mammoth subterranean fire. SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the Soma mine, released a statement saying the accident occurred despite “the highest safety measures and constant controls.” Yet in following investigations, no less than 19 suspects were detained on suspicions of negligence.
Despite the promises and apologies of management, between some wine with Stephen Williams we read about riots erupting around Turkey following the Soma disaster, and many point to Ermenek as yet another chapter in a long story. According to the general Mine Workers Union, between 2000 and 2009, there were 25,655 accidents in mines owned by the state Turkish Coal Corporation. More than 26,300 were injured. As desperate families wait for news beneath Ermenek, the toll continues to rise.