Turkish Coal Miner Faces Future After Tragedy

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A survivor of the Turkish coal mine disaster that killed more than 250 talks about the hours he spent trapped below ground. He's now afraid to return to mining, and wonders how he'll make a living.


The mining town of Soma in Western Turkey is reeling after Tuesday's mine explosion. At least 300 people have died there. The government's now winding down the recovery operation, but many townspeople fear more miners remain underground and believe officials are covering up the real number of the dead. The mine has been shut and survivors are asking how they can support their families with no jobs. NPR's Leila Fadel sat down with one of the miners and sent this report.

MURAT YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Murat Yokus is a slight man with sad green eyes who meets us in his village near the mine. He's also one of more than 350 men who survived the worst mining disaster in Turkey's history. He sits with us in the small garden behind his family home where they grow vegetables. His toddler daughter runs behind him playing with three baby kittens, only stopping briefly to run and sit in her father's lap. She doesn't know she almost lost him.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: He recounts what happened.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: It was time for the shift change and Murat Yokus and 60 others were making their way out of the mine. But they saw billows of smoke. They didn't know what it was. They hadn't felt an explosion. But in one direction there was a fire and in another poisonous clouds of carbon monoxide gas. So they waited in a small area near the machinery room. And as men made their way up, it grew crowded with more than 140 people. Some men had working gas masks. Others did not. Yokus didn't wear his, not realizing how much poison gas was building up.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: But then, Yokus says, he knew he was going to die. He didn't panic. He rested his head against the wall as images of his family flashed in front of his mind's eye, his two-year-old daughter, his seven-year-old son, his wife, his parents. In front of him, men drifted in and out of consciousness. He would shake his friends and coworkers awake, trying to keep them alive. He says one man, an older man, died in front of his eyes. Some men went to the machinery room and pushed their noses against iron bars or chewed on them, thinking they could extract oxygen from the metal.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: Yokus doesn't remember how he got out. A coworker left the room to climb up and tell the rescuers where they were. He opened his eyes and he was on the ground outside.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: He saw his family waiting for him, watching him get loaded into the ambulance. It was 1 a.m., and he'd been in the mine for more than 10 hours.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: He says he can't imagine ever going back into an underground mine where he and others risked their lives for about $715 a month. His eyes began to water.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: He says, if the government could help, maybe I wouldn't have to go back. But if it doesn't help, then what choice do I have? He was four years away from being eligible for an early pension. Now he has nothing. His family will support him until he can figure out what to do, but they can't do it for long.

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: And even if he did want to go back to work, how? This mine is destroyed, and he and his friends are out of a job. He refuses to talk about who he blames. Then he gets anxious. He doesn't want to talk anymore. Around him well-wishers wait to greet him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Turkish spoken).

YOKUS: (Turkish spoken).

FADEL: We're glad you're alive. I'm OK, he tells them, hugging the visitors. Then he gets ready to leave for the cemetery to pray for his two dead friends. Across town, protesters flooded the center of Soma. They chanted against the ruling party who many blame for failing to keep the mine safe. Soma, don't sleep, they say. Remember your martyrs. Then the police wade into the crowds using tear gas, water cannons, and reportedly, rubber bullets to disperse them. Leila Fadel. NPR News.

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