Turkey mine search ends; last of 301 bodies found

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Miner Erdal Bicak, center, speaks to journalists as he joined fellow miners and their family members to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims and protest the government’s labor policy in Savastepe , Turkey, late Friday, May 16, 2014. Public anger has surged in the wake of the Soma coal mine inferno that killed at least 299 miners. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Miner Erdal Bicak, center, speaks to journalists as he joined fellow miners and their family members to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims and protest the government’s labor policy in Savastepe , Turkey, late Friday, May 16, 2014. Public anger has surged in the wake of the Soma coal mine inferno that killed at least 299 miners. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Police use water cannons and teargas to disperse people gathered to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims and protest the government’s labor policy in Izmir, Turkey, late Friday, May 16, 2014. A Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after over 250 people died in an underground blaze at its coal mine in western Turkey.(AP Photo)

Miner Cetin Esmer speaks to the Associated Press as he joined fellow miners and their children to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims and protest the government’s labor policy in Savastepe , Turkey, late Friday, May 16, 2014. A Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after over 250 people died in an underground blaze at its coal mine in western Turkey.(AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Police use water cannons and teargas to disperse people gathered to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims and protest the government’s labor policy in Izmir, Turkey, late Friday, May 16, 2014. A Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after over 250 people died in an underground blaze at its coal mine in western Turkey.(AP Photo)

Police use water cannons and teargas to disperse people gathered to commemorate the Soma mine accident victims and protest the government’s labor policy in Izmir, Turkey, late Friday, May 16, 2014. A Turkish mining company defended its safety record Friday, four days after over 250 people died in an underground blaze at its coal mine in western Turkey.(AP Photo)

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SAVASTEPE, Turkey (AP) — Turkish rescue workers have retrieved the bodies of the last two missing miners in the nation’s worst mining disaster, putting the final death toll at 301, the energy minister said Saturday.

Taner Yildiz said 485 miners escaped or were rescued after Tuesday’s explosion and fire that devastated a coal mine in Soma, western Turkey.

“All corners of the mine were searched by a large team and there was no other body or living person,” he said. “Until today we had focused on search and rescue efforts. Now we will be focusing on investigations, on what will happen about production.”

“We won’t be leaving (Soma) because the search efforts are ending,” he added. “There will be psychological and social support.”

Government and mining officials have insisted that the disaster was not due to negligence and that the mine was inspected regularly. Akin Celik, the mine’s operations manager, has said thick smoke from the underground fire killed many miners who had no gas masks. High levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have been a problem for rescue workers as well.

But one miner, 24-year-old Erdal Bicak, told The Associated Press that he believes the disaster was due to the mining company’s negligence.

“The company is guilty,” Bicak said. He said managers had machines that measure methane gas levels: “The new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn’t tell us in time.”

Yildiz said it is too early to say why the explosion occurred.

“The true cause of the accident will be assessed … through different dimensions,” he said. “There will be lessons to draw for the mining world.”

Associated Press

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