Explosion in Turkish Coal Mine: Subterranean Industrial Emergency

On Tuesday May 13, 2014, word spread of a devastating transformer explosion and fire in a coal mine in western Turkey, trapping more than 700 people, with at least 166 deaths confirmed.  Rescuers have evacuated 88 miners, and 80 of them are severely injured. Because the explosion, which is believed to have been triggered by an electrical fault, occurred during shift change, Turkish authorities currently are uncertain of exactly how many miners were inside at the time of the event. Current reports estimate nearly 790 miners may have been in the mine at the time of the explosion.  The Turkish government and mining officials were quick to respond. Energy minister Taner Yildiz, who is overseeing the rescue operation, told reporters that four rescue teams are currently working at the mine. Only with time will we know the full extent of the devastation this industrial public health emergency has caused.

Turkey map

The mine is located in the western town of Soma.

Response crews mobilize outside the mine.

Response crews mobilize outside the mine.

Crowds gather outside Soma's local hospital

Crowds gather outside Soma’s local hospital awaiting news of loved ones trapped inside.

 (Images from bbc.co.uk)

Mining Preparedness in the United States

In 2006, three underground coal mining incidents resulted in the death of 19 miners, stimulating passage of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act. Under this Act, mine operators are required to develop and maintain response plans to reduce delays and improve quality of emergency response. For example, stocks of self-contained breathing apparatuses, which supply 2 hours of oxygen, are required to be placed throughout escape routes. Additionally, wireless two-way communications and tracking devices were to be installed so that surface workers can better communicate with trapped miners.

Underground coal mining disasters and fatalities -- United States, 1900-2006. (2009). MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 57(51), 1379-1383.

Underground coal mining disasters and fatalities — United States, 1900-2006. (2009). MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 57(51), 1379-1383.

Underground coal mining disasters and fatalities -- United States, 1900-2006. (2009). MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 57(51), 1379-1383.

Underground coal mining disasters and fatalities — United States, 1900-2006. (2009). MMWR: Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 57(51), 1379-1383.

As of April 2012, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports that there are 193 coal, 24 coal surface, 173 metal/non-metal and 20 metal/non-metal surface rescue teams available to respond to crises across the country. Research performed by the Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) has fostered increased training of mining and emergency response personnel through real-life and virtual-reality disaster simulations. During these exercises, rescuers explore smoke-filled passageways to search for missing personnel, administer first-aid, repair failed infrastructure, and fight fires. More information on work being performed by OMSHR can be found here.

Currently the Mine Safety and Health Administration has 3 fully equipped Coal Mine Emergency Units (MEU) located in

  • Bruceton, PA
  • Beckley, WV
  • Price, UT

Each of these MEU’s is comprised of 30 individuals who train for four days each quarter. These teams can mobilize and deploy to any mine in the mainland US within 18 hours of notification of an incident. Further information on MSHA Emergency response planning can be found here.

 

WV Mine Emergency Unit Response

WV Mine Emergency Unit Response

UT Mine Emergency Unit Response

UT Mine Emergency Unit Response

PA Mine Emergency Unit Response

PA Mine Emergency Unit Response

As with any public health emergency, regular and realistic training and drills are essential for rapid and efficient disaster response. This was easily proven in small-town Ouray, CO, home of the Revenue-Virginius mine. On November 16, 2013, only hours after the local emergency response community had gathered for training on the Mass Casualty Incident Command System, miners were engulfed with poisonous CO gases. Two men died on-scene, but 20 others survived. Thanks to the training they received, 30 responders were able to coordinate the rescue, hospital notification and patient tracking such that all miners were accounted for[5].

 

Report written by Vidya Eswaran

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