By Andrew Wilks, The Associated Press on February 13, 2024.
ISTANBUL (AP) – A landslide hit a gold mine in eastern Turkey on Tuesday, apparently trapping at least nine workers underground, officials said.
The landslide at the Copler mine happened at 2:30 p.m. near the town of Ilic in Turkey’s mountainous Erzincan province. Footage seemingly shot by a nearby worker showed a massive wave of earth rushing down a gully, engulfing everything in its path.
Nine workers had not been heard from since the landslide struck and “it is thought that they are buried under the ground,” Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.
Yerlikaya said 400 search and rescue personnel were at the site. Turkish emergency agency AFAD said staff from surrounding provinces were brought in to take part.
Erzincan Mayor Bekir Aksun, meanwhile, told broadcaster Haberturk that between 10 and 12 workers were missing. The Energy Ministry also put the number at nine.
Geologist Suleyman Pampal told Haberturk that the soil that formed the landslide had been processed for gold and may contain dangerous substances such as cyanide that are used in the process.
He also warned of an environmental threat to the nearby Euphrates River. “Mixing with the Euphrates means the end of all life. It must be prevented urgently from reaching the Euphrates,” Pampal said
Anagold Mining has operated the Copler mine since 2009. Yerlikaya said 667 people were employed at the site.
In a statement, the company said its “most important priority in this difficult process “¦ is the health and safety of our employees and contractors.”
“This is a painful situation. Immediately after the incident, we immediately contacted our employees in the region, put our emergency plan into action and informed the relevant public institutions and organizations,” the statement said.
Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said an investigation into the disaster was launched. “I wish our citizens from Erzincan recover soon and hope that our miner brothers who are trapped under the rubble will be rescued safely,” he said.
Turkey has a poor mine safety record. In 2022, an explosion at the Amasra coal mine on the Black Sea coast killed 41 workers. The country’s worst mining disaster took place in 2014 at a coal mine in Soma, western Turkey, where saw 301 people were killed.
In the wake of those incidents, engineers warned that safety risks were frequently ignored and inspections not adequately carried out.
“The disaster that took place in Erzincan Ilic Copler gold mine is a disaster that (was) coming,” the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects said in a statement issued on social media.
The union added that it had filed two lawsuits against the mine’s operation. “We said that Ilic Copler gold mine should be closed and rehabilitation works should be started.”