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Death Toll Nears 285 In Turkish Coal Mine Explosion

This post was updated at 4:00 a.m. ET Thursday:

The death toll in Turkey's worst mining disaster has risen to 282. Rescue teams recovered eight more bodies on Thursday. Hope is fading for the estimated 150 miners trapped below ground.

This post was updated at 7:10 p.m. ET.:

Crowds angered over a mine explosion in western Turkey that claimed at least 274 lives clashed with police on Wednesday near the site of the disaster in Soma.

The Associated Press says that in the city's center, "protesters mostly in their teens and 20s faced off against riot police Wednesday afternoon in front of the ruling NKP party headquarters. Police had gas masks and water cannons."

Many expressed anger with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government for privatizing the mines and ignoring safety warnings. Reuters reports that "Furious Turks heckled [Erdogan] and jostled his entourage on Wednesday as protests erupted in several cities."

Erdogan said that Turkey was "experiencing a very great pain," over the accident, but at a news conference he emphasized that "[explosions] like this in these mines happen all the time. It's not like these don't happen elsewhere in the world."

The AP quoted Energy Minister Taner Yildiz as saying 787 people were inside the coal mine at the time of Tuesday's explosion, 274 had died and scores were injured. The death toll would make it the worst mining accident in the country's history.

Yildiz said 363 had been rescued. Earlier, he said the number of rescued was 450. Erdogan says 120 miners are still missing. As the AP writes: "There was no immediate way to reconcile the differing figures."

While fresh air is being pumped into the mine to try to keep survivors alive, he said that, "[regarding] the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing."

Efforts to reach them have also been complicated by the mine's length, which is reportedly more than 2 miles. A rescuer who tried to reach survivors tells the AP that he made it only around 500 feet before gases forced him to give up.

And because an electrical problem helped trigger the disaster, power has been cut to the mine's system of service cages, the BBC says.

The area around the entrance to the mine has become a scene of wide-ranging emotions. In some cases, friends and loved ones have welcomed survivors; in others, they've watched as stretchers are carried past, bearing the dead.

"Frantic relatives have gathered at the mine, waiting for news of loved ones," the BBC reported Wednesday. "As ambulances took away an increasing number of bodies, some of the bereaved wailed uncontrollably and were carried away by their families."

Family members outside the coal mine in Soma, Manisa, Turkey. On Wednesday, rescuers raced against time to reach more than 200 miners trapped underground.
Ozgu Ozdemir / Getty Images
Getty Images
Family members outside the coal mine in Soma, Manisa, Turkey. On Wednesday, rescuers raced against time to reach more than 200 miners trapped underground.

The AP says:

"As bodies were brought out on stretchers, rescue workers pulled blankets back from the faces of the dead to give jostling crowds of anxious family members a chance to identify victims. One elderly man wearing a prayer cap wailed after he recognized one of the dead, and police restrained him from climbing into an ambulance with the body."

Erdogan has declared three days of national mourning for those lost in the disaster.

The incident in Soma, about 155 miles south of Istanbul, could become the deadliest mine accident in Turkey's history.

"Accidents have plagued the country's growing mining industries," the Two-Way reported Tuesday. Between 1991 and 2008, 2,554 Turkish miners lost their lives, according to a supplement published in the British Mining Journal last year; one accident in 1992 caused more than 260 deaths."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.