Turkey mine: ‘Race against time’ to free workers after landslide

Connie Queline

Turkey mine: ‘Race against time’ to free workers after landslide

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Hundreds of rescuers are continuing their search for nine gold field workers who went missing following a landslide in eastern Turkey.

Roughly 10 million cubic metres of earth fell suddenly from a gulley onto the Copler mine site on Tuesday.

Four people, including the pit’s field manager, have been arrested as part of an investigation into the incident.

There are also concerns that dangerous chemicals could leak from the site and create a wider environmental disaster.

Former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who visited the mine, said that while a number of workers who were on the site at the time of the landslide were able to escape – they have determined that nine are unaccounted for.

“Although an extraordinary effort has been made in a race against time, it is useful to say that the conditions are not on our side, considering the magnitude of the incident,” Mr Yildirim said of the rescue efforts.

Five of the trapped workers are thought to be in a container, three in a vehicle and one in his truck in a different part of the site.

The Copler mine, which is one of Turkey’s largest, is located in Erzincan province – around 90km (55 miles) from the provincial capital Erzincan, and more than 600km east of Ankara.

Alongside the rescue efforts, officials are trying to allay fears that cyanide and dozens of other chemicals used in gold extraction could spread from the site into the nearby Euphrates River, which flows into Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf.

Turkey’s environmental ministry said it was testing the Euphrates for chemicals and had seen no evidence of any pollution so far.

Culverts from a stream running to the river have been sealed off as a precaution.

Mehmet Torun, the former president of the Chamber of Mining Engineers, told the BBC’s Turkish service that the group had made repeated warnings about the gold mine.

“We said that a gold mine in Erzincan, which is on an active fault line and 300m away from the Euphrates River as the crow flies, is very dangerous,” Mr Torun said.

He described the incident as a “terrible environmental disaster”.

“We are literally poisoning the river that has been watering Mesopotamia for thousands of years.

I would like to believe that there is no leakage, but I don’t know how much confidence we can have.”

Binali Yildirim said the chemicals used at the site were stored in a different place to where the landslide happened.

Satellite image of mine in 2006 and 2023

The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, of which the Chamber of Mining Engineers is a member, was among those calling for the Copler mine to be closed permanently.

Efforts were made in 2022 to shut it down following a cyanide leak.

Anagold Mining, the company that operates the site, was fined 16.5m Turkish lira (£428,000; $536,000) but the mine was allowed to stay open.

SSR Mining, which part owns Anagold, suspended its production at the site following Tuesday’s landslide.

Shares of SSR, which are traded on the New York and Toronto Stock Exchanges, lost more than 50% of their value on Tuesday.

There has been a string of mining accidents in Turkey in recent years. In 2022, an explosion in a coal mine killed 42 people.

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Related Topics

  • Turkey
  • Environment
  • Mining

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