The body of miner is carried to an ambulance in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa, May 14, 2014.
The body of miner is carried to an ambulance in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa, May 14, 2014.

Emergency workers in Turkey are looking for survivors after an electrical explosion and fire deep inside a coal mine killed at least 274 in the country's worst-ever mine disaster.

Government and mining company officials say nearly 450 miners have been rescued, but 120 may still be trapped inside the mine in the town of Soma, south of Istanbul.

Rescuers have been driven back by thick smoke and poisonous gases. They hope the trapped miners have taken refuge inside one of the so-called safe rooms.
 

Major Mining Accidents in the Past Five Years

Anxious crowds outside the mine cheered when some of the men emerged with blackened faces but remarkably unharmed. As the day wore on Wednesday, the cheers became sobs when rescuers started bringing out bodies.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to the scene. He infuriated the crowd by recalling past mine disasters and called workplace accidents "ordinary things."

Erdogan had to take refuge in a grocery store. He also said, though, the disaster in Soma will be thoroughly investigated.

Police in Ankara used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to march on the energy ministry. In Istanbul, dozens gathered outside the headquarters of the company that owns the mine.

Officials say 787 people were inside the mine at the time of the blast. A VOA reporter said he spoke to miners taking part in the rescue operation, however, and they say that the number of miners is usually closer to 1,000.

Officials say most of the workers died from carbon monoxide poisoning after an electrical unit exploded, causing a fire inside the mine. The mining company, Soma Komur Isletmeleri, said it is unsure what caused the explosion.

Turkey's coal mines are notoriously dangerous, prompting some in parliament to demand an investigation into poor safety conditions.

Soma is Turkey's worst mining disaster since 1992 when a  gas explosion killed 263 in the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

"I would like to say that, the pain we've left behind is not just that of the brethren we have lost, it is our shared pain, the pain of 77 million," said  Erdogan.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.