Rescuers were struggling early Wednesday to reach more than 200 miners still trapped inside the coal mine. More than 360 workers have been evacuated so far.

Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz on Wednesday said the death toll from an explosion and fire at a coal mine in western Turkey is now 201.

Mr. Yildiz said 80 mine workers were injured and at least four of them are in serious condition.

The accident in the mine in the town of Soma some 250 km south of Istanbul is one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history.

Rescuers were struggling early Wednesday to reach more than 200 miners still trapped inside the coal mine. More than 360 workers have been evacuated so far.

Mr. Yildiz said the rescue effort is “reaching a critical stage” with the death toll likely to rise as time passes.

The accident occurred when the workers were preparing for a shift change, officials said, which likely raised the casualty toll because there were more miners inside than usual.

Mr. Yildiz said the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Authorities say the disaster followed an explosion and fire caused by a power distribution unit.

Nurettin Akcul, a mining trade union leader, told HaberTurk television that Turkey was likely facing its worst mining accident ever.

“Time is working against us. We fear that the numbers could rise further,” Mr. Yildiz said. “We have to finish this (rescue operation) by dawn. I have to say that our pain, our trouble could increase.”

Earlier Mr. Yildiz said some of the workers were 420 metre deep inside the mine. News reports said the workers could not use lifts to get out of the mine because the explosion had caused a power cut.

Television footage showed people cheering and applauding as some trapped workers emerged out of the mine, helped by rescuers, their faces and hard-hats covered in soot. One wiped away tears on his jacket, another smiled, waved and flashed a “thumbs up” sign at onlookers.

Authorities had earlier said that the blast left between 200 to 300 miners underground and made arrangements to set up a cold storage facility to hold the corpses of miners recovered from the site.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan postponed a one-day visit to Albania scheduled for Wednesday and planned to visit Soma instead.

One woman threw herself on the ground, crying after hearing about the death of a loved one, HaberTurk television showed. There were tears of joy for another who told the station she had just spoken by telephone to a missing relative.

Police set up fences and stood guard around Soma state hospital to keep the crowds away.

SOMA Komur Isletmeleri A.S., which owns the mine, said the accident occurred despite the “highest safety measures and constant controls” and added that an investigation was being launched.

“Our main priority is to get our workers out so that they may be reunited with their loved ones,” the company said in a statement.

Turkey’s worst mining disaster was a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

Earlier story: At least 70 dead in Turkey mine accident

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