274 dead in Turkey's worst-ever mine disaster

In a relentless procession that ignited wails of grief, rescue workers coated in grime lumbered out of a mine in western Turkey again and again today, struggling to carry stretchers laden with bodies covered in blankets.

The corpses' faces were as black as the coal they worked on daily. There were 274 of them - and the fate of up to 150 other miners remained unclear in Turkey's deadliest-ever mining disaster.

While emergency workers battled a toxic mix of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in deep underground tunnels to try to find survivors, anger and despair engulfed the town of Soma, where Turkish officials said at least 274 miners died in Tuesday's coal mine explosion and fire.

Tensions were high as hundreds of relatives and miners jostled outside the mine's entrance Wednesday, waiting for news. They were countered by a heavy police presence.

Rows of women wailed uncontrollably and men knelt sobbing or just stared in disbelief as rescue workers removed body after body. To let off steam, some heckled Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as they passed by.

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 people had been inside the coal mine at the time of yesterday's explosion: 274 had died, 363 had been rescued and scores of them were injured.

The death toll topped a 1992 gas explosion that killed 263 workers near Turkey's Black Sea port of Zonguldak.

It also left 150 miners still unaccounted for. Erdogan said today that 120 miners were still missing. There was no immediate way to reconcile the differing figures.

Rescuers were still trying to vent out the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and pump clean air into the mine, according to mine owner Soma Komur Isletmeleri A S.

Yildiz said rescue workers were trying to reach the bodies of 20-22 people trapped in one specific zone. Some of the workers had been up to 420 meters deep inside the mine, he said.

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