Stricken Turkish mining town buries its sons

A coffin is borne aloft by the crowd to a row of hastily-dug graves, as the stricken community of Soma buries the fathers, sons and husbands lost in Turkey`s worst ever mining accident.

AFP| Updated: May 15, 2014, 23:13 PM IST

Soma: A coffin is borne aloft by the crowd to a row of hastily-dug graves, as the stricken community of Soma buries the fathers, sons and husbands lost in Turkey`s worst ever mining accident.

Just before midday prayers, thousands of locals pack the cemetery in western Turkey where grave-diggers are still hollowing out a long line of graves, three rows of two dozen each.

Barely time to lower each coffin into the grave before another is placed by its side, to the distraught wails of the widows and orphans left behind.

Two days after one of the worst such accidents in modern history left at least 282 miners dead, Soma is torn between anger and grief at its loss.

"My husband works in another mine," said Fethiye Kudu, watching the solemn graveside procession from a distance under the beating sun and wind. "I came out of solidarity. It`s very hard for us all."

Another young woman, Cana, lost a friend.

"I am sad but not angry," she said. "What happened was God`s will."

All morning the loudspeakers in the town of 100,000 have been crackling with the sound of death announcements -- the names of the deceased, and details of their burial arrangements.

"His father, mother and brother are sad to share the news of their dear son Yusuf Bak`s passing. His funeral will take place after midday prayers..."

Among the crowd thronging the cemetery, a funeral worker clutches a bunch of small yellow stickers, each carrying the name of one of the victims.

"May your soul rest in peace," reads a little note posted on all the town`s stores, most of which are preparing to shutter their windows in mourning. 

"A great many people are dead. A lot of my colleagues lost relatives," said Mustafa Yuzgun, as he locked up his mobile phone shop.

"And there are still many miners trapped in the deep. It hurts, badly."Within hours of the blast that caused the mine collapse, accusations started flying at the Soma Komur mining company, suspected of jeopardising workers` lives to cut costs.

Anger boiled over during Thursday`s visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government stands accused of failing to enforce safety standards in Turkey`s mines, where explosions and cave-ins are common.

"I have students whose parents were killed in the accident," said local teacher Emek Oz, who joined a protest strike called Thursday by Turkish unions. "It`s very hard to talk about it."

"This is all the fault of those who exploit these people."

Seated in the shade of a tree at Soma`s cemetery, Gulhane Celik, whose two grown sons work at the mine, has come to support the women who lost loved ones.

"If only we took better care of the workers we wouldn`t be here today," said the woman in her sixties.
"This is a tragedy for Soma," said Tahsin Ikiz, a photograph of his lost nephew pinned to his buttonhole, as an imam chanted verses of the Koran before the crowd.
"This was not an accident," he seethed. "It was murder. It was murder because they neglected these people`s health and safety."