Hopes faded for nearly 150 miners still missing after a fire raged through a coal mine in the Turkish town of Soma on Tuesday.
Dogan News Agency reported on Thursday that response teams said 14 men were found dead in the mine's sole refuge chamber, crushing hopes that some of the 142 missing miners may have survived the tragedy by holing up in the shelter. The 14 men reportedly had used the oxygen masks stored in the chamber in turn before the air supply was exhausted.
As mining expert Celeste Monforton explained to USA Today, refuge chambers can be crucial to help miners survive after mining accidents and have become a standard modern feature in shafts in Canada, South Africa, Australia and the U.S. Monforton pointed at the incredible survival of 33 Chilean miners who were rescued after spending more than two months inside a refuge chamber when their mine collapsed.
In August 2010, the 33 miners became trapped in a gold and copper mine near the town of Copiapó after the mine had caved in. The men resurfaced in October of the same year in apparent good health and spirits. Holed up in the refuge chamber, they had survived on water that was stored there and food rescue crews supplied via tubes through a tiny bore hole.
Dogan News Agency said that the coal mine near Soma apparently only had one refuge chamber, despite initial reports that there were several. The agency added that only four of some 400 mines in Turkey are reported to have the chambers, and all four of them are metal mines.
Authorities explained on Wednesday that the tragedy on Tuesday was caused by an explosion and fire in the mine's power distribution unit. Of the 787 people who were in the mine at the time, 282 are confirmed dead so far, making the incident the deadliest of its kind in Turkish history.
On Wednesday, demonstrations erupted in cities throughout Turkey to protest unsafe working conditions in the country's mines, which are known to be plagued by poor safety measures. The Associated Press reports that the country's largest trade union confederation joined a one-day strike by other unions to demand better conditions for workers.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of the mining accident in Chile.