Rescuers were facing a race against time last night to save at least 18 workers trapped half a mile underground after a coal mine flooded and partially collapsed in Turkey.
Others managed to escape or were pulled to safety at the Has Sekerler mine near the town of Ermenek in Karaman province, about 300 miles south of Ankara.
Surging water is thought to have left the workers trapped inside the main mining zone near a safety area.
Turkey’s emergency management agency, AFAD, said a broken pipe in the mine caused the flooding but did not elaborate.
Governor Murat Koca said about 20 other workers escaped or were rescued from the mine close to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
No details were available about their condition.
However, officials at the privately owned mine said last night that the workers still trapped had a slim chance of survival unless they had managed to reach a safety gallery unaffected at the time.
There were growing fears, however, that the so called safety area may have been compromised by the flood too when the alarm was raised around noon.
Rescue crews had so far not been able to make any contact with any of the miners, they said. The men had all been part of the morning shift.
Sahin Uyar, an official at the mine, said: “At the moment, 18 of our colleagues are trapped. We are working to pump water out from three sections of the mine.”
Turkey’s ministers for energy and transportation immediately left Ankara, the capital, to oversee the rescue operation.
AFAD said it had sent 225 people to join rescuers from neighbouring mines and regions.
It is thought investigations will centre on whether or not adequate drainage works were in place at the site at the time of the flood.
The main priority, officials said, was trying to pump water out to reach those trapped.
The incident is just the latest dark episode to blight the Turkish mining industry.
In May, a fire inside a coal mine in the western town of Soma killed 301 miners in the country’s worst mining disaster.
The fire exposed poor safety standards and superficial government inspections in many of the nation’s mines.
Violent protests also broke out across the country aimed at mine bosses who workers and their families claim put profit before the safety of staff.
Some have also accused the Turkish government itself of having too many close ties to those running the industry.